The pandemic has been the biggest emergency the UK has seen in 70 years. More than 160,000 people died but just as many lives were saved through advances in medical science and strong public sector communications. But now the worst of the emergency has passed teams are still stuck in the emergency response loop of long hours, stress and burn-out. This time servicing business as normal. One senior comms officer is wondering if there’s a better way.
The wheels in local government often turn slow. Over stretched, under resourced and driven by the whims of the government of the day even the simplest decisions can take an age to implement.
Unless you happen to work in comms. Tight deadlines, fast paced and quick turnarounds are what we do. Tell a comms officer you need it tomorrow and you can consider it done. Give us a 3pm deadline and we’ll say no problem. It doesn’t matter that we’ve got a million things to do because we’ll perform minor miracles and get it done.
Then COVID happened. Fast was no longer good enough. Deadlines went out of the window. Everything needed to be now, immediate, ready to go before anyone knew what they needed.
With government guidance changing every 10 minutes (sometimes literally) and the public in a panic we became a public information service. Webpages, social media, press releases, videos and more were created within hours and constantly updated.
Saving lives 24/7
We weren’t saving lives, making PPE or keeping essential shops open but we played our part by keeping the public informed 24/7. Working 12 hours a day became the norm – 16 and 18 hour days weren’t unusual.
While government Ministers held daily press conferences and the media ran dramatic news stories, public sector comms officers made sure people got the information and support they needed to stay safe.
Lockdown after lockdown, tiers, local restrictions, roadmaps – whatever the government planned – we were there to make sense of the guidance and to pick up the pieces when things went wrong.
Then came the announcement so many hoped for, not for the first time but hopefully the last, life was finally going to get back to normal. Public sector comms officers can return to the slower pace of tight deadlines and quick turnarounds – or can they?
Back in the real world it turns out we did such a good job of responding immediately during the pandemic there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do the same now.
The pandemic may officially be over (unless a new variant appears) but for public sector comms officers the pressure continues to build. After all it’s not like comms is difficult, everyone did comms during COVID, anyone can design a poster and social media is something to do in your spare time.
By stepping up and doing the right thing we’ve made a rod for our own backs. And now we need to find a way to live with a COVID defined future for comms.
The author is an experienced communications professional who works in local government.