The PR Show podcast: 'Government urgently needs new approach to coronavirus comms'

The Government needs to relinquish its tightly controlled, 'campaign driven' approach to coronavirus communications for a more nuanced approach for it to be effective, according to a panel of comms professionals.

The Government's approach to coronavirus messaging needs an overhaul. Photo: Getty Images.
The Government's approach to coronavirus messaging needs an overhaul. Photo: Getty Images.

The Government needs to drop its ‘one size fits all’ approach to coronavirus communications for more nuanced and localised messaging, as parts of the UK move towards an easing of social distancing rules.

Crisis, media and healthcare communications experts warn the current ‘campaign driven’ style of communications is no longer effective and a combative relationship with sections of the media is distracting from core messaging.

“You've got a government and a core political team that is a very campaign-driven team. It almost, at times, feels that they're campaigning against the sort of mythical COVID-19 party,” BCW head of strategic media Steve Hawkes said.

“This is a different sort of thing, and you have to bring the whole country with you and be quite clear. My worry is they don't seem to have a vision now.”

Speaking on PRWeek’s podcast The PR Show last week, Hawkes said that ministers “squaring off against other ministers” in a blame game is also a problem Number 10 needs to sort out.

W20 Group International president Annalise Coady said more science-based guidance and a localised approach is now needed.

“What we're seeing is how a local approach has to become much more important in the nuancing of the messaging,” she said. 

“We're seeing areas of the UK that perhaps have not been hit by the virus and we're seeing other areas that have been truly swamped. That messaging has to be different, and the ability of local communities to respond very differently to what's ahead of them needs to be addressed.”

Crisis communications consultant Amanda Coleman also called for more nuanced communications. 

“Depending on who you are, where you are, what sector you work in... there are going to be so many different sorts of factors to [coronavirus messaging], which is why the localised approach is going to be the only way forward really to be able to effectively do that,” she said.

Coleman said the Government’s messaging lacks “humanity and empathy”. “The only way we're seeing that human side of it is through the media,” she said.

MHP head of media Ian Kirby wants to see the Government focus less on lobby journalists and more on direct communications with the public.

“This isn't a battle to be won in terms of PR. And [the Government] also [needs to communicate] in cooperation with as many agencies as possible will be vital,” he said. “So stop stress-testing story ideas, stop responding to the urgent demand by lobby journalists, and actually go out direct to the people that you're communicating to.”

Hawkes said it is time for the Government to reset it comms and avoid being "sucked in to a Westminster battle".

“They came into government on a very big levelling up agenda, and they've almost forgotten about the rest of the country beyond London and the southeast, they need to get back on that,” he said.

“I think they need to open up the quad. The four ministers underneath Boris. Boris needs to get out there more but I think you've got Michael Gove who is almost like the chief executive to the board. Boris is the chairman. You've also got Rishi and Hancock. I think you need to get Priti in there. I think you need to get a wider number of people in there and more females.”

Listen to the full podcast below.

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