Angela Merkel praised for 'direct, vivid and emotional' crisis comms

German communications professionals have commended Chancellor Merkel's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Here's what other leaders can learn from her.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been praised for her crisis comms skills. (Photo: Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)
Chancellor Angela Merkel has been praised for her crisis comms skills. (Photo: Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)

With the Reichstag behind her, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated the coronavirus presented the greatest challenge to the nation since World War II in a moving Sunday address.

Just minutes later, it was revealed that she had been exposed to the virus after meeting a doctor two days earlier who had tested positive.

The pandemic has left political leaders around the world with the difficult task of cutting through the noise and fear.

PR professionals have praised Merkel's direct approach and clarity of message, something other national leaders, including Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Australia's Scott Morrison, have been criticised for lacking.

Discussions about the most effective communications tools employed by governments to speak to their nations are ongoing, but speeches have become the principal currency of public life – and, unlike the British pound, they seem to be appreciating in value.

Paul Stallard, international MD of Berkeley Communications, said that comms from Germany's government had been “good at a time when the world stops to listen”.

“The team are happy with the communication from Angela Merkel so far, and comfortable with the approach she's taking," he said. "The hope is these clear lines of communication continue to stay open, and businesses and people feel like they're being supported.

“The challenge, as they see it, is that Germany is a federal state, meaning that Merkel isn’t the only decision-maker. There are prime ministers for areas within Germany, such as Bavaria (Markus Söder), and this is where issues may arise in the near future if both parties don’t agree."

Katja Waldor, general manager at Ballou, said: “Everyone in Germany was waiting for Chancellor Merkel to give a statement or hold a speech about the virus. One could complain that it took a bit long until she finally did.

“The result was a great speech last Sunday, which was heard by 25 million people. Her speech was intense, vivid and emotional. She managed to give a speech that, for all its sobriety, conveyed that degree of emotion and drama that makes people feel addressed and made them change their minds and especially their behaviour.”

Little Red's DACH territory manager, Lilith Bussfeld, added: “I think Angela Merkel has a really direct and open approach, which I really value and think is the best way for the country.”

German workplace culture

Bussfeld said she thought it was more difficult for Germans to adjust to the current ‘working from home’ culture than it is for people in other countries. Employees have the right to decline working from home, unlike in the UK, and employers can’t force people to use their private home as a workspace.

“Of course, all editorial meetings are still happening digitally and, given the fact that home working is on the agenda globally, any relevant stories or products that focus on home working are also of interest," she added.

“This is a perfect opportunity for brands to utilise strong lifestyle shots to gain large features, as all in-house shoots have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. These pages still need to be filled, so the press are desperate for strong lifestyle images which fit the bill.”

Waldor said the challenge for agencies would be to maintain productivity while working remotely.

“It's a diversified landscape in terms of industries, and spread out in terms of location, too. Working in and with tech, and using most of our clients' tools ourselves, we were relatively well-positioned to move the whole team to work remotely.

“That may not hold true for less digitised legacy enterprises in the Mittelstand, where many teams currently scramble to uphold productivity.”

Stallard added: “The whole industry has quickly moved from a ‘business as usual’ mindset to a mode of high alert. People are scrambling to adapt their business strategies and economic factors are evolving rapidly.

“Ballou serves clients across various tech verticals and many are b2b software companies, which are often more resilient in times of crisis, especially with an increasing demand for remote working.

"We are certainly seeing a drop in new business, however. Companies are cautious about costs they see as non-essential and are reluctant to make new investments right now.”

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