How to transform communication corporations from villains into heroes.

With any amount of huffing and puffing by government, the house of Covid isn’t going to be blown down. It’s not only a question of more effective huffing and puffing, it’s more a question of finding a different method to demolish the house. The problem that communications has to address is simply, the public increasingly aren’t buying into what the government are trying to sell. The government’s telling isn’t selling the public on what they’re required to do. More of the same is not going to turn this situation around. It’s not a matter of shouting louder or more often, rather it’s about creating credibility and relevance for the message it currently lacks. For a message to be absorbed, accepted and acted upon requires the public to be willing buyers, with sufficient trust in the purveyor of the message. Trust is in increasingly short supply.

After 12 months of news conferences, Prime Ministerial addresses and endless media carping about details picked over on an almost hourly basis, the public are understandably overloaded with information, instruction and fear. Overlaying yet more instructions and information, increasingly at very short notice only adds to this mix of ineffective communication. This confusion and, to a greater or lesser degree, rejection of the message, results in the state of government and public interaction we see at the moment. The public’s ability to accept the continual re hashing of the same package of information and instruction is fast wearing out. A reset is required.

The above argument is not to say that the communications objectives and the resulting message(s) are flawed, rather that the executional delivery of them has, so far, not succeeded. Unfortunately, however determined politicians and governments might be that they are experts in communication, that view is not born out in light of the current state of affairs with the public. Testing times and situations such as the nation is currently experiencing will show up areas of weaknesses and indeed are doing so increasingly, particularly with regard to the success or failure of execution/delivery. So, it’s a case of shoot the messenger not the message.

However, while the problem is understandably one of deep concern because it’s vital to get the government’s message across effectively, it’s ultimately fixable in the short term. This is not an infrastructure, scientific or major capital investment matter, it’s one of presentation. All that is required is for government and politicians to admit past failings and commit wholeheartedly to addressing the solution. Successful communications programmes in the political arena are relatively rare which points to the difficulties in achieving buy-in from politicians! But, the country is faced with an existential crisis and the government’s success in taking the public along with its handling of that crisis, is declining almost by the day.

How to reverse this situation and how to achieve change rapidly? In a national crisis such as this epidemic, it is surely perfectly reasonable for the government to call upon all parts of society and the economy to support its efforts? However, over the past year the behaviour of the media has been particularly unsupportive of government, not helped by the looming presence of the continuing Brexit negotiations. It is certainly the case that the government’s communications efforts are shipping water at an alarming rate, with public opinion as to their success, or not, in handling the crisis at a worryingly low level. How to change public perception through government communications efforts has to be THE key short term executional concern.

It would be easy to say that simplest answer would be to throw the problem at the advertising industry and ask them to come up with a solution. However, advertising agencies tend to focus on competitive advantages creatively expressed. The situation with Covid does not contain competitive issues that would readily provide the basis for a classic advertising approach. But improving communications lies at the heart of the public’s engagement with doing what’s best for them and the country.

So, as its not a singular effort by one arm of the communications industry it needs to be a genuinely joint effort from all arms. This means the broadcast media-TV, radio and cinema, social media-Facebook, Google etc, print media-newspapers, magazines, posters and advertising all joining together in proposing to the government how they can and must improve their use of all these outlets. The media are full of professional communicators, strategists and creative talent. These resources acting in combination, making a concerted effort to aid the government’s communications would generate a rapid and unaffiliated effort.

Specifics of the concept:-

Pre condition: Government accepts the problem as identified and the cooperative effort required to fix it.

Progression

1) Government calls a symposium for initial input, then puts in place the following-

2) Identification of an ambitious timing plan for reporting back to government.

3) Formation of an Oversight Board-chairmen and chief execs of specific high profile media companies, relevant Cabinet Ministers, Civil Servants and Media Commentators. NB All people who can galvanise their organisations.

4) Creation of an Executive Group-whose function is to propose a basic strategy to generate specific proposals and the briefs to respond to that strategy. This board will consist of current practitioners who can identify key sources of talent.

5) Within a month create an initial set of proposals to government for consideration and comment.

6) Within 2 months have refined and agreed proposals to implement after accelerated qualitative research.

Summary, Conclusions and a Question

It is vital for government to admit of the size, importance and urgency of the communications problem. The Communications industry have the resources and experience to provide a tailor-made solution for government.

Does this or any government have the humility and insight to encourage a very powerful industry to lend its talents to help the greater good?

 

 

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