Why does everyone hate Covid 19 messaging?

Nearly everybody seems to have an opinion about ‘the messaging’ relating to the Covid 19 Pandemic. Journalists and media types love this subject because they feel on more solid ground than epidemiology or virology.

But what is ‘the messaging’ and why do so many of us feel that it is being done so poorly by our Governments?

In PR practice, key messages are essentially the points we want to convey to the public. However, the carefully crafted words on the Power Point slide don’t magically transfer to the public mind.

For earnt media there is the reinterpretation of an independent journalist, and for owned or paid media there is the way a public hears the message.

Often messaging is criticized when we simply don’t like what we hear. For example, Covid messaging is said to lack consistency and simplicity, even though the circumstances are clearly ambiguous and complex. It would seem many journalists and communications professionals would prefer a simply repeated message, even if it is fundamentally dishonest and quite likely wrong over time.

So how can we create messaging that survives the filter of journalists and is heard effectively by the public?

1. Consistency is good, but so is flexibility

Endlessly repeated slogans do sink into the public mind, but they are almost impossible to change should circumstances move. For example ‘stay home, get tested’ may not easily turn around when we need everyone confident and out and shopping, even when Covid is circulating.

2. Fear trumps everything

At a time of personal threat – such as a worldwide pandemic – only a very strong personal incentive can overcome negative messages and actions. In the vaccine rollout in Australia paid media has delivered the bland friendly ‘arm yourself’ campaign, while earnt media has delivered a far more aggressive ‘vaccinate or else’ you will be excluded. This combination appears to be working, although the real test will come once we are above 70 per cent vaccinated.

3. Meaningless messages get meaningless results

Communications is often a political process that leads to so much compromise that the outcome has no meaning whatsoever. For example, a popular tagline in NSW is Let’s be CovidSafe Together. A very confusing message in the context of social distancing, closed borders and differing rules for ‘areas of concern’.

4. Successful messaging is tailored to specific audiences

The most common critique of all communications campaigns usually comes from those to whom the campaign is not directed. Social media and technology means we don’t need to rely on one mass message. Tailoring messages for different groups may not be as memorable, but it can be effective. For example a campaign encouraging vaccination in the Sydney suburb of Blacktown directed exclusively at its migrant Indian population has been one of the most successful in in the country.

So has our Government communicated its Covid 19 measures well? In my view it is a case of pockets of effective communication hidden in oceans of bland wasted opportunity.

What do you think?

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