The Government’s crisis comms policy on Covid-19 has been a disaster. I have seldom seen crisis communications done more worserer (yes, I know that is not a word – but I didn’t want to swear). Even Comical Ali had a shred of credibility.
It started off as a mix of rumour and briefing chosen journalists, in the hope that their ‘government source’ stories would nudge the population into action. Instead, it just made them panic-buy loo roll.
People called for decisive comms and public information. What they got was an always-late 5pm (ish) daily press conference. They also got what may be the worst public information broadcasts since AIDS was sold as some kind of actual scary monolith with the voice of 1984‘s John Hurt.
These broadcasts feature a random grey-faced middle-aged white man in a tie, who, it turns out is the Chief Medical Officer. Who knew? Well, largely no one if they weren’t a journalist, civil servant or fan of the daily broadcasts. if they’d stuck a white coat and stethoscope on the guy then he may have had some traction. But he already looked a bit peaky, even before it was confirmed he was isolating with symptoms of the coronavirus.
Of course, it is easy to say that this is no time for a celebrity-led campaigns, but it is celebs who are helping to drive campaigns for PPE or free meals for NHS staff. These are not even the really big names. Idris Elba, who has already had the virus, would certainly draw attention to any messages around health or social distancing, whilst any of the TV doctors would far better than an anonymous-looking representative.
Rishi Sunak is the one cabinet member who has come out of this well, so far. There have been declarations of love from lefties, calls for him to be the next Prime Minister and even surprise from these quarters. After all, he performed like a barely-sentient android during the general election campaign. He seems to have been limited to financial announcements, lest he look too much like a natural successor to Boris Johnson.
While the PM recuperates and self-isolates we are faced with the prospect of listening to Michael Gove on a regular basis – a man who couldn’t even make cocaine abuse look mildly distracting. When most memes in your name are about what an unrelatable and disliked oddball you are then you should probably not be sent out to reassure the nation.
On the face of it, the government comms cock-ups are amusing – simply more fodder for Twitter amusement (guilty). But we are at a point where each person listening could save a life. We need clear comms from government officials, but we also need clear public health messages from someone relatable, believeable and who garners respect. You may have your own call on who that is. But I’d be interested to know.
We are all social distancing now. It’s the Charleston of the 2020s. Unfortunately, the messaging on what distance to keep apart has not been that clear. So, here is my idea for a new measurement of social distancing. The Osman. The Pointless brainbox is famously tall at 2.01m, making him an ideal marker. Maybe we can spraypaint his likeness on park pavements or even high streets. Stay safe out there!
Many construction workers would have been sat having their tea or as well-deserved can as the UK government was finally nudged into announcing a lockdown last night. It was something that doctors, unions, ambulance drivers, nurses, service-industry workers and retail employees countrywide had been calling for all week. Some, many politicians included, had been calling for it all month.
But, these same construction workers were left confused and cut-off by the government’s comms policy, along with all those involved in building or maintenance work.
Were they key workers? Was that block of flats necessary? And who is going to pay the sub-contractors and self-employed if the building works cease? What about on-site canteens, bathrooms and handwashing facilities?
Michael Gove sought to clarify and just confused everyone further still. He simply told everyone to stay two-metres apart, having obviously never seen a building site or its workings. But this is fairly standard for this government. Every message has to be amended, re-jigged and sent out again, until it sticks or is withdrawn.
As someone who works a lot in comms for and around construction companies, builders, architects and developers, I am seeing plenty of frustration out there. Plumbers don’t know if they can mend a tap, carpenters don’t know how to stay two-metres away from their mate and brickies don’t know whether to lay down their trowel.
Site builders are more than familiar with PPE and on-site safety, but even that cannot stop the spread of Covid-19, just as it cannot stop the spread on the way in on the trains and tubes. They are inevitably putting each other at risk and others at risk, too. But they need to know that they are financially secure.
Meanwhile, developers and site managers don’t know how and if they can pay their teams of contractors and sub-contractors. If work stops then does their bank pull the plug? Who owes what to whom?
There is now a whole new list of things that those in the construction and maintenance sector need clarification on. A lot of those in the industry are already living week-to-week. They need more than Universal Credit to get by, that is for sure.
For a government that has been accused of being all message and all substance then they need to at least get the messaging right, or the health of the industry and the nation will both suffer.
It’s time to close the sites and provide financial assistance at every level.
The Coronavirus outbreak (or Covid-19 if you want to be particular) has dominated the headlines over this week. There has been speculation, isolation and even legislation, as our leaders attempt to get a handle on how to handle the situation best. We still don’t know what best is, although plenty are prepared to speculate.
We have also seen a large amount of disruption to the world of work and lots of event cancellations to come. I have had three work events cancelled already, including a trade show, teaching session and networking event. In the world I write for, the National Homebuilding and Renovation Show has been pushed back to July and PR Week are running a live blog on the impact on the PR industry.
Elsewhere, activist, campaign and charity groups I work with are planning for medium-term home-working and changes to the way that they campaign. After all, no one wants you waving a petition and biro under their nose when there is a virus afoot. The NHS and others are also turning to social media to get their message across, rather than the noticeboard in the GP’s waiting room.
This shift towards home-working (which is great if you are lucky enough to not be a loo roll delivery driver, NHS worker or care worker etc) could well change our world of work forever. But it also brings a whole new set of hazards with it, from loneliness and lack of discipline to struggles over which pyjamas to wear to the office and how much daytime TV is too much.
As someone who has been a freelance for the best part of 25 years, I feel somewhat qualified to comment on working from home. For example, if you buy biscuits you will eat them all that day. You will become a recipient of all your neighbours’ Amazon deliveries and you will work out the correct angle so that you can Skype in a shirt and your pyjama bottoms. You will also become adept at picking the best Skype background (that bookshelf with the intellectual/business/your own titles on) to impress clients during briefing calls and meetings.
You’ll get more done, but you’ll also feel guilty about taking lunch breaks or walking in the park (you need to walk in the park, believe me). The getting more done is one reason that I never feel bad about quoting a day rate way higher than the pro rata salary for an equivalent staff member, not to mention the savings in National Insurance. Well, that and the fact I’m good.
So, if you need a reliable freelance who knows his way around a crisis and his way around his own kitchen, TV remote and pyjama collection then do get in touch on email@example.com.
The big news story of the last 24-hours – seemingly overshadowing the kick-off of World War III and Australia burning to the ground – is the fact that Dominic Cummings is looking to hire some new staff for No.10.
The job ad (if you can call it that) is a doozy. It pretty much slags off the civil service and paints Cummings himself as a maverick outsider running a start-up. It’s surprising that he doesn’t mention a list of nearby vegan pop-ups or the in-house table tennis league. And, naturally, people have picked up on the overworking culture that it subscribes to.
But what grabbed me was the line saying that he was looking for ‘weirdo and misfits with odd skills’. That is me. That unique combination of, erm, stuff is exactly what many clients hire me for and keep coming back for. I do something that their employees or (in the case of CEOS I work with) they cannot do.
The paragraph that describes these ‘weirdos’ goes thus: ‘We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB. If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news.’ .
Quite rightly, this has been laughed at on social media and in traditional media A LOT. But my two-penneth is simply that none of these people would want a job working for Dominic Cummings. Even Dominic Cummings wouldn’t want to work for Dominic Cummings.
That said, they are unlikely to want a job working for anybody. Us weirdos worked our way out of hellholes and feel sick at Tommy pants because we are weirdos and misfits who don’t want to answer to some loon who wants you to work start-up hours in a going concern for no stock. Although, to be honest, even the stock wouldn’t be a draw. This is why we become writer-artist-consultant-ideas wranglers. My own limit for being in an office is one season. Your mileage may vary.
I have to constantly remind open-mouthed recruitment consultants that I don’t want to be head-hunted thank you very much. I am happy skulking, taking the morning off or laughing at Dominic Cummings on social media.
I shan’t be sending my CV.