This week marks the start of a new financial year for us at Social, and my first as managing director of our South West division. I enter it with mixed emotions.
On the upside, I feel elated at our achievements in this most challenging of years. Our team doubled its size and turnover in 2020. We raised the bar in the quality of our work and the type of clients we’re supporting. We’ve adjusted brilliantly to enforced changes in how we work. We’ve been flexible, empathetic and innovative in supporting our clients.
While I don’t take any of this for granted, it is tempered by sadness, anger and despondency at the national response to the pandemic. As a comms person, I’ve despaired at what I’ve seen and heard about events leading up to the latest lockdown announcement.
In an attempt to set this out in coherently, I’ve split this post into two sections: three things I’d change about the government’s handling of this crisis and three things I will do myself. It’s not intended as a plan; it’s more a way to collate my thoughts and feelings to help me to look ahead with clarity.
Lockdown has provided us with the biggest behaviour change programme we have ever seen. It would be a real travesty if we went back to ‘business as usual’ without locking in some of the benefits achieved during lockdown.
Wherever you’ve worked over the last three months, most of us can agree that lockdown has been challenging. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that its impact will be far-reaching and long-lasting.
But, as the West of England emerges from lockdown with the rest of the country, it feels right to reflect on some positive things to emerge from this crisis that are worth holding on to.
Businesses at the West of England Initiative’s latest meeting heard from those leading the local conversation on how we travel about lockdown’s impact on traffic congestion, air quality and carbon emissions. The findings are stark:
Peak time traffic levels in Bristol are said to be around 40% lower than pre-lockdown levels, although are back on the increase.
Bus passenger numbers are reported to be at around 13% of ordinary levels.
Air quality in cities is markedly improved as traffic has fallen.
I’ve often found press conferences frustrating during my career as a journalist, PR person and (lately) as a public observer.
They have their uses. When there is major focus on an issue, they provide all interested media with the latest information. This ensures consistency and even-handedness.
Following criticism of anonymous briefings on COVID-19 to select media, press conferences entered the spotlight as a daily part of the government’s efforts to keep the public updated on the pandemic response. Since mid-March, millions of people are watching them regularly. Many on my Twitter feed – journalists, politicians, comms people, family and friends – appear baffled at journalists’ questions and frustrated at politicians’ non-answers.
Anyone who’s attended or arranged press conferences will recognise these glitches, which are highlighted every day.
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.
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.