COVID COMMS #46: Winter is here, ready to go again, public sector comms?

Growing up there was a local newspaper sports reporter nicknamed ‘Dave McCliche’ because of his fondness for the same phrases.

With Dave, the picture caption of two footballers would always read how Player A wins the ball ‘despite the close attentions’ of Player B.

In the first weeks of lockdown we had the same emptiness of phrase. Our experience out-stripped our language. We were left grasping for ‘uncertain times’, ‘the new normal’ or even majestically the written phrase ”all this’ *gestures wildly*.’

So, it’s hard to know what phrases to use at the news that there’s a new COVID-19 variant called Omnicron.

Or that warnings that the NHS is at risk of collapse have been dismissed.

Or that parts of the country literally ran out of ambulances.

Or that 150 people a day are still dying of the first variants at a time when people are talking about being in the ‘post-pandemic’ period.

What if people won’t listen?

Talking to people, there’s not just a serious risk of burn-out, burn out is already amongst us. So is walking off the job for the sake of your sanity.

Numbers say, police comms have had it worst, followed by NHS and local government. Fire comms haven’t been in the epicentre but have been drawn into delivering vaccine.

Comms asked to step up again

With another chapter of crisis now facing the UK the public sector are being asked to step back up again. Or before you ay it, did they ever step down?

What’s interesting to me is that for months COVID-19 messaging has all but evaporated. In the tracker survey I’ve been running 65 per cent of public sector communicators in Autumn 2021 recorded that they’ve been sending out less pandemic messaging over the last three months.

No wonder.

There is no way that the level of messaging could be maintained. The cold bath shock of lockdown 1.0 saw 42 per cent of the UK watch Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to the nation. For weeks hands, face and space was the messaging shared and reported. But as we grew used to it the message blunted.

Burn out and risk

In Winter 2021, the important questions facing public sector comms are this.

How do we crank back up the messaging that works about hands, face, space, wear a mask, get a jab or a booster?

How do we do all this without breaking what’s left of the people who are communicating these messages?

Because if we break the people who are doing the communicating, what then?

But if we don’t get the message out what then?

What if people won’t listen?

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons.

GUEST POST: Encouraging vaccine take-up through research, data and behaviour change

Encouraging people to take the COVID-19 vaccine is the challenge of our time. Hounslow Council shaped their approach by talking to residents and using behaviour change techniques. Sterling Rippy and Eddie Coates-Madden explain.

In Hounslow, comms started planning for a vaccine comms campaign with behaviour change specialists from the public health team towards the end of 2020.

Even at the earliest stages it was clear misinformation was going to be an issue.

The plan set out comms in four key areas:

  • Logistics – ensuring residents know where to attend, how to get there and how to get away, to avoid bottlenecks
  • Encouraging take-up.
  • Myth-busting for key groups as part of the encouragement work, and 
  • Contingency crisis responses to any actual problems with the vaccine.

We were clear about complementing NHS comms work, not replicating it by doing personal communications to patients, or providing medical information.

We set out to use local government’s key strengths: comms that knows the area and knows local communities.

We laid out some principles: partner branding, socialisation, behaviour change ‘rewards’ and detailed segmentation identifying, for example, messengers, community languages, tailored assets, messages, channels and rewards. 

In one of the most diverse council areas in the country, we were very aware we also needed a clear view of the vaccine concerns of particular communities, e.g. South Asian origin communities, the financially excluded, Afro-Carribean communities, women aged 30-40, and younger people.

The key realisation has been that the challenge of hesitancy is about getting good information – as opposed to bad information – into those communities.

In the absence of other sources, we created detailed, extensive FAQs on our website

The challenge is getting that right information to the right people. The approach developed with behaviour change colleagues seeks to use the messenger principle to address misinformation. Working through surveys and engagement sessions, we realised misinformation was circulating, specifically among South East Asian and Black Afro-Caribbean communities.

We ran focus groups with members of these communities to identify barriers and enablers. Across all conversations residents wanted to speak to their GP about their questions in order to make an informed decision.

One of the prevalent rumours is that vaccine trials were rushed and skipped important safety trials. Residents also told us they didn’t want to be forced, or attacked for their hesitancy. Utilising feedback gained from the insight sessions and, recognising people are generally more receptive to information coming from figures they trust, we designed and tested four types of messages and messengers.

Hounslow Council’s four types of messages and messengers

  • An NHS infographic stating the vaccine went through all of the same trials as other vaccines and medications.
  • A council branded message redirecting viewers to a FAQ page with information on the vaccine.
  • A quote from a local GP of either South East Asian or Black Afro-Caribbean background stating that the vaccine went through all the same trials as other vaccines framed as a ‘MYTH vs FACT.’
  • A quote from a local GP of either South East Asian or Black Afro-Caribbean background, stating that the vaccine went through all the same trials as other vaccines but framed as ‘you asked, your GP answered’.

Testing all four on Facebook, we targeted people within 10 miles of Hounslow, and recorded click-through as the outcome metric – an indicator of engagement – as tracking actual vaccination rates was not available.

Message version four was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the clear winner. What was more surprising is that people preferred the ‘you asked, we answered’ questions over ‘myth vs fact’.

We’re using this testing to inform the basis of our campaigns to ensure informed decision making in hesitant communities.

Other quick wins have included, using local GPs to deliver FAQ sessions, and leveraging social norms by providing residents with stickers to display prominently showing they’ve had the vaccine.

There is much yet to do, and we recognise we have yet to reach the more hesitant priority groups. Hounslow has had good uptake to date, with over 90 per cent of our top four priority groups, and over 54,000 people in the Borough having had the vaccine in total. There has been excellent uptake in care homes amongst both staff and residents, with some of the highest rates in the capital. 

We won’t be getting into arguments with anti-vaxxers, because our focus is on that segmented, targeted, tested approach. The prize is to convert hesitancy and it’s our belief that that is best done through local knowledge, local partnerships and driven by Behaviour Change expertise.

Sterling Rippy is strategic lead behavioural insights at Hounslow Council and Eddie Coates-Madden is interim head of communications and events.


A YEAR? How public sector comms people look back at 12-months of COVID-19

‘This is my truth,’ NHS founder Aneurin Bevan’s widow recalled him saying to people, ‘tell me yours.

Truth is, there is no universal truth of the first 12-months of the pandemic. Our experience differs. For some, a welcome break working from home. For others, grief or a fight for health.

It got me thinking. How have public sector comms people fared? I asked members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group for their thoughts.

On March 23 2020, the UK Prime Minister announced the widest set of restrictions on personal freedom in living memory. It’s hard to recreate the shock of it and since then things changed.

Can you sum-up the last 12-months in four words?

“You are on mute.” – Mark Chapman.

“Relentless change and challenges.” – Suzie Evans

“What a fucking rollercoaster,” – Sarah Tidy.

“I am not thriving,” – Kelly Harrison.

“Hardest of my life.” – Lucy Salvage.

“Frustration, exhaustion, revelation, gratitude.” Lucy Hartley

“Legacy hand?” – Jon Phillips

“Emotional, frustrating, proud, enlightening.” – Laura Broster

“Bleak, tiring, uphill, love.” – Angela Maher.

“I’m ok with change.” – Joy Hale.

“Keep swimming through currents.” – Kirstin Catriona Thomson

“Relentless. Exhausting. Camaraderie and Gratitude (and quizzes!)” – Emma Russell.

What was a personal positive moment of the last 12-months?

“Having a warm, loving household.” – Suzie Evans

“No commute, absolutely brilliant.” – Stephen Wilkinson.

“I absolutely love homeworking.” – Clare Parker.

“Incredible commitment, resilience and talent of countywide partners working together to do great things in comms and elsewhere.” – Thom Burn.

“Volunteering at the Vacc Centre seeing happy, dancing Octogenarians.” – Marie Lewis.

“Learning to sew and play piano.” – Carolyne Mitchell

“Getting much closer with my partner, being home together more could have been rocky, and I know others haven’t been so lucky, but I’m so thankful we had each other through the highs and lows.” – Jennifer Ann Bracegirdle.

“Getting to spend time at home with my teenage daughter and the birth of my niece.” – Ghazala Begum.

“Seeing my dad get a vaccine.” – David Grindlay.

“Joining my family for the first time in months for a BBQ on the beach. Feeling the warmth on our faces and remembering what it felt like to be in their company and how much we had missed. And now I remember that, and that it will happen again.” – Emma Russell.

“Getting a promotion and having that first hug off my niece when we were allowed.” – Ceri Doyle.

“How much I’ve valued and love my partner and my two girls.” – Nicola Fulton.

“Hugging my Dad for the first time when we were finally allowed to form bubbles. And getting our puppy.” – Jennifer Kightley

What was a personal bleak moment of the last 12-months?

“Grandmother’s funeral.” – Andrew Clayton.

“Not seeing my dad for a year and him missing kids birthdays and Xmas.” – Leanne Hughes.

“My grandad passing away at what felt like the most stressful point in my memory, end of March 2020, however it did make me stop for a weekend and step back to process everything around me.” – Jennifer Ann Bracegirdle.

“Watching my child break down because everything is ‘weird and feels bad,'” – Kelly Harrison

“Not seeing a single person I knew face to face for 6 weeks something others won’t even be able to imagine but reality for those of us wfh who live alone.” – Ceri Doyle

“Losing one of this group to COVID. It really affected my patience – for a few days there I lost any ability to tolerate deniers/rule breakers and the ‘but they were old/already sick’ brigade, grrrrr…..” – Beck McAuliffe

“Worry about the long term impact on my daughters mental health, wellbeing and education.” – Ghazala Begum.

“My cousin hung himself in April 2020.” – Anonymous.

“Missing the birth of my second son when there was a flight ban at the start of the pandemic and not seeing my mum for a year now.” – Mark Templeton.

“Losing my voice through stress for four months.” – Joanne Cooke.

“Personal tragedy aside, having to concede defeat and take time off from work for my mental health.” – Lucy Salvage

“Realising that although day-by-day, hour-by-hour I feel absolutely fine, just below the surface the isolation, the pressure, the long hours, the dark nights, the missing family and friends, the worry, the constant covid- anxiety, the funerals we couldn’t attend, the weddings cancelled, the hospital appointments done alone, the elderly relatives giving up because their life has stopped… well it really does take its toll, that and the daily annoyance that still my job is referred to as ‘making pretty things and jazzing stuff up’.” – Emma Russell.

“My husband’s friend died of Covid leaving a widow and young child.” – Angela Maher.

“My Mum’s tears at not seeing her grandchildren for months.” – Marie Lewis.

Homeworking? Back to the office? Or a mix?

“Discovered working from home suits me, but I need to go to the office too ~ 70:30?” – Lucy Hartley.

“Both – and the trust to be able to chose which works best for me, my job and my team at that given time. But I really do miss seeing my wonderful colleagues.” – Emma Russell.

“Homeworking, with some friends house working and the odd office touch-down.” – Carolyne Mitchell.

“Keep me home working. Love it.” – Clare Parker.

“Definitely a mix, I miss homeworking days when I needed time out from meets to focus and I miss office times with colleagues to be creative and group think through the troublesome, sticky issues properly.” – Laura Broster.

“Mix but more at home to hang out with bandit-dawg.” – Leanne Hughes.

“Working from a very quiet office is better for me than being at home.” Nicola Fulton

“Homeworking is finally acceptable.” – Brioney Hirst.

Thank you to contributors Andrew Clayton, Mark Chapman, Suzie Evans, Thom Burn, Sarah Tidy, Kelly Harrison, Ghazala Begum, Lucy Salvage, Jon Phillips, Stephen Wilkinson, Emma Russell, Marie Lewis, Carolyne Mitchell, David Grindlay, Laura Broster, Angela Maher, Leanne Hughes, Jennifer Ann Bracegirdle, Beck McAuliffe, Clare Parker, Joanne Cooke, Ceri Doyle, Nicola Fulton, Brioney Hirst, Jenny Kightley, Kirstin Catriona Thomson, Amanda Rose, Charlotte Parker, Mark Templeton and Joy Hale.

This is their truth, tell me yours.

30 days of human comms #75: The human Facebook page that tells the NHS story

You may have seen the excellent Humans of New York Facebook page and its mix of story telling and pictures.

The man behind it takes pictures of people with their permission but he then sits with them and asks a series of questions.

All of the captions are in the words of the subject. There is no journalese. It’s just you and the subject.

It’s a technique I’ve seen used in a few places but nothing so effective as in the Humans of COVID-19 Facebook page which uses the technique to allow NHS staff to tell their story.

Here are three examples.

Pick one in one sitting then maybe comeback to the others. When you read them you’ll see why.

I’ll give you a trigger warning, too. It’s a tough read.

Here Leigh talks about sitting with a patient in an ambulance as she dies so she is not alone.

In this post Alfred talks about the stress of being an ICU nurse who has been forced to take time off for his mental health.

Stephen talks about being a physiotherapist redeployed to end of life care.

I don’t know what to say about the content other than it’s important we read it.

The page is run by unnamed people in the NHS in London. The subjects only have a first name. Their stories, I suspect, are universal but their relative anonymity gives a licence they may not otherwise have.

There is no personal data given and there’s no clue as to where these stories happened.

This may be too strong for a corporate Facebook page, I don’t know. But there is something disarming and powerful in reading something in someone’s voice and seeing their picture.

There may be other stories that you can tell.

If you allow people to tell them in their own voice and their own picture you will cut through to people in a way that you may struggle to through a poster or a tweet.

GUEST POST: Learning how to better communicate with diverse communities during COVID-19

Each phase of the pandemic has unwrapped new challenges. Now we have a vaccine, why aren’t people coming forward to take it? Polly Cziok talks about the groundbreaking work the London Borough of Hackney have been involved with to map their diverse communities, listen to them, create bespoke content for them and then refine it. People want to be informed not manipulated. It’s an approach that is starting to work.

Polly will talk more about Hackney’s approach in a Zoom chat with members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group at 1pm on Thursday February 25. Members can sign-up here.

A year ago as Covid-19 crashed into our lives, the comms directive from central to local government was very clear.  Our job was to use our channels to put out the messages that they would provide. Any talk of local nuance or developing local or regional campaigns was met with suspicion, and to a certain extent that was understandable.  After all, the first rule of emergency comms is to control the message tightly. Many of us have worked on major incidents in our careers, and the command and control system of comms is vital, as we seek to forge order out of chaos.  

However, in recent years – and nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than in the dreadful aftermath of the Grenfell fire – the importance of rapid community engagement, of listening to people affected by crisis, and acting on that insight, has become more widely understood.  And Covid isn’t an ‘incident’ in the usual sense, it’s an epoch-making public health crisis that has affected every human being on the planet.  

In the midst of this global crisis, our lives have become intensely local, for many of us our existence shrunk down to our homes, the local park, and the corner shop.  And the recognition of the importance of local comms solutions, based on insight, and tailored to local communities has grown throughout. When we look at the huge disparities in vaccine take up, across ethnic groups and different areas of the UK, it is clear that national ‘one size fits all’ messaging really isn’t working for everyone. 

Amongst most people, vaccine hesitancy is just that.  People feel nervous, unsure, and indeed hesitant.  None of our residents talked about 5G…

Polly Cziok, London Borough of Hackney

This is dangerous stuff in the middle of a manufactured, post-Brexit, culture war.  Vaccine hesitancy amongst so-called ‘BAME’ communities (a highly problematic phrase in itself, but especially in the hands of the Daily Mail), is very real, especially amongst Black and South Asian populations.  This needs to be tackled urgently to avoid deepening the health inequalities that Covid has both exposed and exacerbated.  But it needs to be done sensitively, and without stigmatising communities.  And the key to that is insight and proper, active listening.  

We’ve carried out an extensive vaccine insight programme in Hackney, and the learning has shaped all our communications. Amongst most people, vaccine hesitancy is just that.  People feel nervous, unsure, and indeed hesitant.  None of our residents talked about 5G, microchips, nano-technology, Bill Gates, or aliens.  Those who had fears talked about the speed of the vaccine development, potential side effects, worries about the 12 week gap, about how rushed the whole thing seemed to them, how it would react with existing conditions, wanting to wait and see.  Some talked about experiences of medical racism, and lack of trust in government messaging.

In our focus groups we tested a range of messages, developed with our in-house behavioral science specialists, ranging from the fear inducing (‘you will be at risk if you don’t get vaccinated’) to the emotive (‘you could hug your family again’).  We tested the social norming messages (‘everyone else is doing it!’).  We showed a range of sample campaign posters.  The feedback was very clear.  People do not want to feel that they are being persuaded or manipulated. They want to feel informed.  They want their questions answered.They want clear facts from trusted messengers so that they can make their own decisions.  And who are those trusted messengers?  Well, guess what? They’re not social media influencers, celebrities or (dare I say it?) politicians.  They’re not even faith leaders or community peers – although those can be helpful advocates.  The most trusted messengers on vaccination are doctors, nurses, and public health professionals.  Go figure.  

As the vaccine is rolled out across the age groups, this job is going to get tougher.  Our research, and that carried out at a London level, shows that younger age groups are more likely to distrust the vaccine.  That’s why, as part of Keep London Safe (the London boroughs joint Covid comms effort), science teachers in Hackney have developed a set of teaching resources for every school in London (and anywhere else that wants to use it) to make sure young people are informed and can reassure their elders.  We know that people who get their news from social media are more likely to be vaccine sceptics. We know from early insight with our Charedi Jewish community that older people have been keen to take it up, but that some younger people, especially women, have been affected by disinformation about the jab causing infertility.  

So we keep listening, we keep learning, we keep tweaking our messages, creating new content, discovering new channels.  We’ve created an insight toolkit for London boroughs, to help people structure polling, focus groups and message testing.  Anyone is welcome to use it, but in the spirit of sharing, if you do, please share the insight that you gain so we can add it to our collective knowledge.   

I’m really proud of the role we are playing in this work, of my Hackney team (special shout out to Florence Obinna and David Besbrode, our mighty insight and data analysis duo), our public health colleagues, our community partners, and of everyone in local government who is developing and sharing such amazing best practice.   I hope that one of the legacies of Covid – as we move together to tackle some of the factors behind health inequality in the UK – is that local insight will be a key driver, and not an afterthought.


The Hackney Council web resource for schools on COVID-19 vaccine resources aimed at schools.

Polly Cziok is Strategic Director, Engagement, Culture, and Organisational Development at London Borough of Hackney.

Picture credit: istock.

SURVEY NUMBERS: As the pandemic drags on public sector comms mental health is suffering

If you’re working in public sector communications seven months into the COVID-19 outbreak your mental health is suffering, a survey shows.

Almost seven in ten of government, fire, police, NHS and local government communicators say their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic struck.

The data from a survey of almost 300 communicators carried out in October and November 2020 show the long term effects of working under pressure is starting to tell.

However, almost eight out of 10 reported that they still feel as though they are working for the common good – an increase of three per cent compared to June 2020.

In truth, the results are alarming.

But the hidden downsides to the work are increasing. Feeling isolated are 47 per cent of respondants – up from 34 per cent in June.

In addition, 53 per cent said their physical health was worse compared to before the pandemic.

Feedback given anonymously in the survey is also disturbing.

“I do find that I feel anxious about work. I feel stressed constantly looking at everything as a task and feeling failure if not done quickly.”

“My line manager hardly checks in to see if I am ok, the workload has increased and I can’t see an end to it currently.”

“COVID has been my introduction to anxiety. And its getting worse as the months go on, and the professional pressure keeps rising.”

fig 1. How is your mental health compared to working before the pandemic?

Positives remain

However, data collected in October and November do point to a communicators believing in what they were doing. There has been a three per cent increase to 77 per cent of people who feel they are working for the common good.

In addition, 45 per cent of communicators felt as though they were working as part of a team.

So, what does this mean?

When I first surveyed public sector communicators in June it was as a one-off but this has now developed into a tracker survey to plot the progress as the panedmic goes on.

In truth, the results are alarming.

On the surface, people often get through their day and their tasks but this is coming at a price.

I’m no expert, but if you are feeling stressed then ask for help.

If you are a manager, a head of communications or a director of communications this needs to be something you look at. Your staff believe in what they are doing but they are suffering.

If you’re public sector do me a favour. The NHS has a good web page with resources here. Take a look and do something. You are not alone. The survey shows this and the chances are there are people in your team feeling the same.

You could also contact Samaritanscall: 116 123 or email: if you need someone to talk to.

If you are public sector and want to take part in the January iteration of the survey click here.

GUEST POST: How and why the ‘Don’t be a Dick’ public health campaign was created

It’s always good to hear the story behind amazing campaigns. As public health fight tooth and nail to get their message across the more direct route was adopted by Lincolnshire Resilience Forum. SHAUN GIBBONS communications manager of South Holland District Council explains how it emerged.

Hello, how are you?
Let’s be honest: framing a public health messaging campaign around calling someone out for acting a dick comes with a fair amount of risk. Calculated risk… but risk, nevertheless.

In these heightened, sensitive ‘age of panic’ times the ability for people to find offence in anything that they’ve seen or read online is a headache for anyone working in communications.

This becomes even more relevant when communicators are searching for new ways to say the same thing. Just how many ways are there to say, “Stay at home”, “Wash your hands”? (It must be noted here that UK Government really need to develop the “how” and “when” messaging and consider employing more of the “why” …something they’ve been criticised for in the past).

It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals

who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.

So why the dick?

Cutting through the social media noise and the ‘vanilla’ messaging (a colleague’s phrase, not mine) was Dick’s primary objective. And with nearly half a million views in the first few days of the campaign, this spiky little individual did just that.

Remember the why? Well, we wanted to root this campaign in a particular (give it some bollocks, you might say). Dick represents, according to a UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team survey, 8 per cent of people who are thought to be responsible for 60 per cent of the total transmission risk.

Put bluntly, Dick is a dick and his actions – and the inherent risks to everyone associated with him – need to be called out. And I believe that was done with a fair dose of humour which seemed to be appreciated by the vast majority who’ve shared and commenting on the campaign’s first
introductory post. Some are suggesting Channel 4’s The Last Leg parodied the campaign on its show last night.

Will this campaign change Dick’s behaviours?

Maybe, maybe not. Is Dick aware that his actions have consequences? Almost certainly. But does Dick know to what extent? I don’t think so, no. And if this campaign does nothing else it highlights the butterfly effect that even the smallest of behaviours can have a large affect.
But that’s enough about Dick.

What about Tom and Harriet?

These two heart-warming individuals represent those who continue to play their part in keeping the virus under control. These two need a voice and need to be championed for the sacrifices they’ve made. These are the majority who quietly go about their lives making a positive contribution to their communities. We need to hear more about the Tom and Harriet’s of this world. (Again, it’s worth noting that behavioural messaging lands much better when they are framed in a more positive sense rather than negative. Again, something the UK Government has been criticised for).

How did you manage to get this signed off?

Working in a multi-agency organisation with a number of instinctively command and control structures is often difficult and demanding, I won’t lie. As is the political dimension. But there’s three reasons why this campaign got off the ground.

Number 1: having a flexible communications strategy that said to partners: “Hey, if you don’t want to share our content, then that’s cool. We’re down with that. We understand you have your parameters and own audiences to consider. It’s all gravy.” All good content will stand on its own two feet.

Number 2: Gaining the trust of your team and those around you and being able to influence those you need to quickly, quietly and efficiently was key. I work with a fantastic group of individuals who know I’ve got their back and I know they’ve got mine. So, if you’re going to tiptoe around a minefield be sure-footed and know where the bombs are buried.

Number 3: Trust your own instincts and hold the line. As I said earlier, it was a calculated risk. But my instincts told me there was a very good chance this would land well with the audience it was intended for. Yes, of course there was pressure for me to take it down and stop the campaign – and I respect those individuals and the organisations they represent who asked for that to happen. But I kept telling colleagues hold the line and it worked out.

So what’s next?

Let’s face it: this campaign won’t appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry…the curtain twitchers from number 7 down the road probably WILL find it either offensive or downmarket. But this campaign isn’t aimed at those. It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals
who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.

Stay safe and thanks for reading.

Shaun Gibbons is communications manager at South Holland District Council.

COVID COMMS #15: What local local lockdown content looks like

There’s now a short window to get your act together if you’re a public sector communicator.

Week 10 of the lockdown and restrictions are being eased across the UK but at a different pace.

In England, there is the prospect of a local lockdown in areas where the infection rate spikes. That can be a school, a workplace or an estate or town.

So how to communicate it?

Why the need to create local lockdown messages?

It all points to the need to have a comms plan with full collateral ready and good to go within days.

Last week I blogged on why this was needed. In summary, data suggests the Cummings effect has had a measurable effect on trust and getting a message across. But communities are hugely trusted. It points to the tactical need to create your own stuff.

But from a practical need you’ll need to create your own stuff, too. Whereas previously people could troop to their national public health website and download the content that’s probably not going to be an effective option.

Government designers won’t be busting a gut to create content for any lockdown for say, on Walton High School in Stafford. Or Dorman Diesels in Stafford. Or the town of Stafford itself.

So, you need to crack on with your own content as part of a comms plan.

What does local look like?

Here’s a few examples of local messages that have caught my eye.

As with anything, don’t wait for best practice create your own.


Welsh Government have created something that could work as a broad approach for England. They’ve created a national message and content that can work on a very local level. Like here for Powys.

STRENGTH: It’s ready and good to go. It identifies with a local area.

DOWNSIDE: It serves Welsh needs but the approach would need to be more granular and re-designed for a more local lockdown. A template that comms people could adjust and deploy out-of-hours makes most sense.


Wigan have done great things over the past couple of years and I really like the way they’ve adapted national messages but made them their own.

STRENGTH: Adding the Wigan Council logo makes it clearly content endorsed by one authority and for one area.

WEAKNESS: While this is for the council, would council branding make it harder for other public sector organisations to share? No doubt they’ve tackled this in Wigan but a conversation with fellow ahead of a balloon going up may be helpful for you. Is there other branding that everyone can buy into without the need for logo soup?


Jason Leitch is National Clinical Director for Scottish Government. More than anyone I’ve seen he nails scientific rigour with clear explanation. Find your local version whether that’s NHS or Public Health and have them explain the thinking behind the local lockdown. Engage with the media as Jason does here. Answer questions. A Q&A in a Facebook group or on a newspaper’s page makes sense.

STRENGTH: The scientific advisor is more trusted right now than the politician so encourage them to deliver their advice.

WEAKNESS: There’s only so many hours in the day and some will be better at it than others.


I lived in the North East for three years as a student and so always missed the summer. The beaches in the region are fabulous and can attract thousands of visitors. This content takes local images with a local message.

STRENGTH: Local images with a slightly light hearted local message postcard-style. A lack of logo can be a strength.

WEAKNESS: While the approach hits the nail on the head for broad tourism messages it couldn’t be cut-and-pasted entirely into local lockdown warnings. But , I’m sure the originators of this know that. A lack of logo can be a weakness.


Similar to North Tyneside, the postcard approach takes a gentle route to encourage people to keep away. But with added logo.

STRENGTH: As with the North Tyneside, a light hearted message delivers a balanced prod. I also like the fact they’ve re-purposed a creative commons image of Formby beach so they have a local view without cost.

WEAKNESS: Again, this can’t be cut and pasted onto a specific lockdown warning. But I’m sure they know that.


If council-branded comms may be a frustrating and needless obstacle to partners sharing then a joint approach can sidestep that. So, this example of Local Resilience Forum branding can avoid that.

STRENGTH: It has a Suffolk flavour from the text to the image which is a piece of public art in Ipswich. Using elements of the national message can be seen as positive. It comes from the LRF so NHS, council, police and others should buy into this.

WEAKNESS: The light-hearted approach won’t work for more serious matters but I’m sure they know this.


Of course, create a local message. But be mindful that you need to spread it locally, too. Luton Council have downloadable assets that is the starting point for sharing a message. Where communities have English as a second language this makes sense.

STRENGTH: Downloadable means that others can share the information for you. A poster can be a poster in the community without the need to print and deliver.

WEAKNESS: You still need to get the information in front of people so they can download it. There’s also a small risk of fake messages circulating.


Sharable content with recognisable local content and a local voiceover makes sense to get local information out. Rhondda Tynon Taf Council have made this strong video, for example. For a local lockdown, date stamping may be an idea.

STRENGTH: Sharable and local.

WEAKNESS: Can take hours to create something local and a lack of technical skills can be a barrier.


Sealing off a park as part of a local lockdown involves more than a chain and lock with a message online. There’s a need for posters and signs, too. Like this from Liverpool City Council.

STRENGTH: A local sign helps deliver a local message.

WEAKNESS: Can be torn down and vandalised easily.

Thanks to Adrian Osborne, Sally Clark, Carwyn Meredydd, James Moore, Rachael ill, Rachel Ridge, Elena Michelle Lloyd, Paula Elwood and Louise Powney.

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