A mate used to say that the secret being a parent was thinking of things as phases.
So, the colic phase will end and eventually the toilet training phase will begin and that way nothing lasts for ever.
This is probably a good way for public sector communicators to approach the COVID-19 pandemic.
The adrenaline phase, as one person described it is over. So now is the #clapforcarers phase. In England anyway, we’re entering the local lockdown phase. This means that local restrictions may be introduced for schools, workplaces or towns.
So, how exactly is that supposed to work?
Here’s five thoughts about how to prepare for it.
Write a comms plan NOW
The best comms plans involve several people who are involved in this. So, in England the Local Resilience Forum which is made-up of police, fire, NHS and council. I’ve written a template for a comms plan here. It’s a straight forward process. Create something that’s a template that you can re-purpose.
Get a designer on the job NOW
Once you’ve got the brief and you have an idea of the messaging get a designer booked. You may need shareable social assets that you can re-purpose but you may also need things like letters, posters, leaflets and other things you can quickly re-purpose.
Get a web developer on the job NOW
You’ll need web content. How is that going to look?
Data says you need a local voice
Fresh research from think tank New Local Government Network shows two things. Community has played a huge role in the COVID-19 response and that people have faith in community. The 2020 Leadership Index reports 95 per cent of respondents say community groups have played a significant role in their council’s role and faith in community trackers in their survey has never been higher.
So, go local.
Good practice says you need a local voice
The first phase of lockdown was about the national message. Across the UK, stay home, stay safe, protect the NHS. Later messages have been mired in the Dominic Cummings controversy. But as far as local lockdowns are concerned it needs to be a local voice that delivers it.
Of late, Wigan Council, for example, have shunned the controversial Stay Alert messaging and have adopted their own branding preferring ‘Stay home, be kind.’
For a local lockdown to work, it feels as though it needs a distinctive local message. .
National data says you need a local voice
There’s no dressing up that the Cummings issue has been a moment to damage existing messaging. Polling says the issue will make it harder to cut through.
Yougov polling is clear that the Government will now find it harder to land messaging
But if the audience is local, then it’s a no brainer to create something with a distinctive local feel.
No, but REALLY give it a local voice
Boris Johnson asking Quarry Bank in Dudley to lockdown? Probably not going to happen and even if it did would he be the most effective way to talk to people.
But the local public health director is the person for the job and so is the beat sergeant, the nurse, the GP and the firefighter. So, what would that content look like?
How would a Facebook Live with the Public Health director work?
Take it to where people are
I feel as though I’m repeating myself here but you need to go to where people are. They are not following your corporate Twitter account. They are in physical places locally and they’re also on Facebook in community groups.
I’ve just finished a project which has engaged with more than 140 Facebook groups across the wider West Midlands. Take the message to where people are.
Comms teams who are running on empty will be forgiven for rolling their eyes at all of this, of course. There’s no way they can do everything particularly connecting with Facebook groups.
So, I’m going to suggest something. There is a large number of people who volunteered at the start of this and haven’t really done much. Go through the NHS if you need to but try and enlist their support in sharing basic comms messages through their own networks. A local message delivered by a neighbour lands better than a national one on a website that doesn’t get looked at.
Prepare in peace time
Of course, the places in England where there are already high numbers must be holding their breath already. So, good luck Barrow-in-Furness, Newham and Brent.
But preparation now may make life easier further down the track.
This is a time where comms needs to take the lead.