Responding to the new normal: update your comms strategy in eight steps

The response to the COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of timely, good communications in the effort to keep the public informed.

As this crisis has evolved, agile comms and clear messaging have been at the heart of the government’s approach. Communications also features in many stories about things that aren’t going so well, as people struggle to get the information they need.

Bristol’s roads, 4pm on Thursday

Comms comes in for some stick. The challenge of accessing the right detail whilst coping with information overload has been huge.

But some of it is working. We are seeing information about support available for businesses come from government to local communities very quickly.

And looking outside suggests the ‘stay at home’ directive is hitting some with most people.

This was a traffic map of Bristol city centre at 4pm on Thursday, 2 April.

This picture is replicated across the country as people heed the government’s advice to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

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Businesses unite to respond to COVID-19

Businesses in the West of England face a challenge like no other as the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak has taken hold.

Employers across the region have moved quickly to adjust to new measures whilst dealing with a flurry of information and guidance from government about what to do and how to access business support. Concerns about the pressure on the NHS and public bodies combines with anxiety about how businesses can continue trading as the economy is placed into temporary hibernation.

As director of a small and growing business in Bristol, the most striking thing about this crisis for me is that everyone is impacted. Whatever sector we are in, we are indeed all in this together.

The principles of collaboration and working together have never been more important than they are now.

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Thoughts on good comms during this crisis

Although the true extent of damage caused by coronavirus won’t be known for ages, its impact on our lives has been greater than anyone could have imagined even a month ago.

Times are tough, for all of us. Everyone is adjusting to its impact.

A lifelong friend of my father is believed to have died as a result of coronavirus, aged in his mid-60s. He’s one of more than 1,200 people to have lost their lives as a result of the disease at the time of writing this post. Makeshift hospitals and mortuaries built to cope with the continued rise in cases are grim indications of what’s to come.

People are worried about their employment prospects. I speak to others who work in my industry who are concerned about the impact this crisis will have on their livelihoods. This is borne out in #FutureProof’s survey on the PR industry’s concerns. We aren’t alone in having these challenges.  

We’re all responding to these pressures in different ways. Keeping pace with vast amounts of fast-changing information on COVID-19, whilst juggling work and caring responsibilities is challenging. We can be very proud of how we’ve responded to it.

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Culture and comms matter now, more than ever

It’s hard to believe that I was with clients at Cheltenham Racecourse just over a week ago.

The government moved into the ‘delay’ phase of its response to the outbreak while I was there. It felt strange being at a major sporting event whilst following what was happening elsewhere. What’s followed since has been head-spinning. How we live, work, communicate and travel have all changed, suddenly and without warning.

New phrases – COVID-19, self-isolate, social distancing – have entered the lexicon. Words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘lockdown’ are everywhere. No other story has been in the news for the last 10 days.

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Why social value must be at the heart of our places

Promoting the ‘value’ of development has been a standard approach for major projects for many years.

Statistics about investment, jobs and training opportunities are often used to generate headlines and online buzz.

After supporting projects for more than 15 years, I’ve seen how this can influence opinions towards a project when presented well. When set out using technical terms like ‘Gross Value Added (GVA) per capita’, it misses the mark, however.

But I’m getting the sense that its impact is on the wane, in the face of rising scepticism and changing views around what ‘value’ means.

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The South West somehow needs to find its voice – and fast

Castle Bridge at Finzels Reach in Bristol.

It’s almost 10 years since I moved from Manchester to start a new life in the South West with my family.

I’ve spent time all over the region since 2010, working in every county. I love its culture, quality of life and the opportunities it has offered us.

The South West is an area of contrasts. It’s largely rural, with successful and sought-after cities like Exeter, Bath and Bristol. These cities are brilliant places to live and work, if you have the skills and experience to find employment there – and can afford somewhere to live.

Somerset, where I live, highlights the region’s contrasts. Many people know the county for Glastonbury festival and Europe’s largest construction project at Hinkley Point C, which is worth £50bn to the region over the coming decades. These are very different things, which together make Somerset an attractive destination for many.

There’s shed loads happening here, and we’re proud to play a part in some of this at Social since we set up in the South West. We’ve supported major developments in Bristol and Gloucester. And we helped the region’s nuclear industry raise its national and international profile.

It’s difficult to know if things would be better for us if we lived elsewhere. But, of all the places I’ve lived and worked, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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