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.
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.
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.
It’s long been said in the PR industry that reputations are hard earned and quickly destroyed. It’s a nice line, which has the benefit of being true. Social media’s ability to accelerate that damage makes this a more pressing concern.
For weeks, I’ve listened to arguments about the press ahead of Leveson’s damning report today. It’s depressing, but not surprising, how quick people on all sides of the debate have been to reach judgements about the report, which appears at first glance to be thoughtful, proportionate and measured.
During the hearing, we’ve heard sickening tales of people traduced by media misconduct. It shouldn’t be forgotten how people like the McCanns, the Dowlers and Christopher Jefferies were treated at times when their lives were already under huge strain. Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and Charlotte Church (who was on Question Time tonight) have sounded at times like they are speaking for the country when calling for independent regulation of the press. It was painful to see experienced tabloid journalists Trevor Kavanagh and Nevile Thurlbeck speak on Channel 4 News tonight about the importance of a free media. Surely noone disagrees with this. But their performance tonight suggested that they don’t get what’s happening around them, or what they need to do to deal with it.