Traditional media remain key for government comms during bird flu outbreak

Regional media, local TV and radio are key to the disease outbreak comms strategy initiated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the midst of the latest bird flu outbreak.

H7N7 bird flu: Has been confirmed at a poultry farm in Lancashire
H7N7 bird flu: Has been confirmed at a poultry farm in Lancashire

Paul Leat, chief comms officer at Defra, told PRWeek its three-pronged PR approach involved confirming the outbreak as soon as possible, demonstrating actions the country has taken and reassuring the public that risks are being minimised.

He told PRWeek: "Traditional media are useful for this sort of outbreak, which is localised to one area. We rely heavily on regional media, local TV and radio to get the message out. There’s a very active farming trade sector, which is very helpful in making sure the message reaches people who need to know the implications of the outbreak.

"Direct comms is also crucial. There is a good network set-up allowing us to communicate directly with farmers and poultry keepers through text messages and emails – so they are aware as soon as an outbreak is confirmed."

The Animal Plant Health Agency is tasked with running comms on the ground, liaising with regional media and communicating directly with farmers and poultry keepers via email and text messages.

Meanwhile, social media channels are also starting to play an increasingly important role, according to the comms chief. Defra has been using Twitter to reach out to the general public and monitor reaction to outbreaks.

To communicate the health and safety message, there has also been inter-agency co-operation between Defra, Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency.

This is the third farm-related outbreak the UK has experienced since November 2014 and Leat said lessons Defra had learned included the benefit of using industry organisations such as egg producers and farmers' unions to disseminate information.

"The key message we are delivering is that there is a very low risk to public health and there are no food safety implications," he added.

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