Covid communications crisis
All the TT dailies have been running alarming images over the past week of crowds of people gathering, not socially distancing and wearing their masks properly, if at all.
Massive outrage ensued, the beleaguered Health Minister and the undermined Prime Minister figuratively pulling their hair out trying to figure out why so many people are ignoring the warnings about the grandiose threat that lies ahead and stay at home.
A tone of exasperation and urgency crept into the voices of the presenters during the PM’s coivd19 briefings.
Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards, head of medical institutions, has gone from the reluctant communicator to the more assertive, more habitual, overdrive woman Trini, forcing us to consider the bald fact that we are going to run out of covid allocated beds and put a strain on us. our health care system unless we do the right thing to avoid getting infected with this new coronavirus which is mutating wildly and killing unprecedented numbers of citizens.
The official team in the line of fire of the opposition’s unnecessary insults and insults and unpleasant WhatsApp group exchanges plead with the middle classes, who are already engaged, enthusiastically share the opinions and decrees of the Ministry of Health and Dr Rowley, and wholeheartedly castigate idlers who do not do as they are told.
Alas, they shouldn’t be
the target group for official messages of doom and sane explanation.
Television and print media are also not the best channels for such vital information sharing.
The Prime Minister was genuinely astonished that a couple showed up at a Tobago shopping center, totally oblivious to the current and near-total lockdown of the country.
But there should be no surprises here. The message should have reached every corner of the two islands after a year of plague.
The relevant question is why is it not? It reveals that the state’s communications operations are insufficient for the job at hand, which is a crisis in itself.
Ethos, pathos, and logos are well-established methods of influencing others, and Dr Rowley and his team have used them all. ‘Follow the science’, coming from the mouths of the sure-footed chief medical officer, the hard-working Minister of Health and the Prime Minister (himself a victim of the virus), gives authority to the message – the ethos.
The Prime Minister appealed to our emotions through his personal stories, albeit in his own style of taking without prisoners – pathetic, and the facts were presented to us very clearly – logos.
Yet despite all this, many people remain unfazed. or do they really do it? Some of them claim that political reasons, posers and chauvinists or chauvinists are not convinced, but almost all would be happy to be vaccinated if and when the crisis occurred.
On the other hand, I am not convinced that all these people who roam the streets with their jaws covered or their mouths gagged and nostrils exposed are doing this to be contrary.
It is much more likely that they are not informed and do not have a meaningful understanding of what is going on. It seems obvious that our state communications officers overlooked the fact that over 25% of the population is functionally illiterate. Had they taken this into account, they would have realized that many of the main potential recipients of the message probably do not understand what they are seeing. The application of police pressure does not win the stakes of persuasion.
An effective communication strategy is not a subtlety, if it ever was. Especially in a crisis like the current one, people need to be persuaded to do what is necessary, not because you tell them to do it, but because they want to and understand why.
Such a strategy contains three essential ingredients: the message, the packaging and the vehicle or channel for delivering the message. The commentators on the TT health missives did not criticize the message itself, namely that we are in a pandemic and our lives are in danger by not doing 1, 2 and 3. The criticism has instead been focused on the method. The dimension of the vehicle must be added.
Guess you can’t completely blame the officials because there is very little business data, but it’s a universally accepted truth that a lot of people don’t watch TV or buy newspapers anymore. It is now also common knowledge that social media, with all its ills, is the most effective way to get a targeted message out, using the media.
Therefore, no repetition of Dr Rowley’s message in official TV briefings has no effect, as he preaches to converts and misses his key audience. Communications staff can rely on the media to get the message out, but the media is not the only means of communication.
Leaving aside those who really believe in conspiracy theories, we should focus on those who do not have a computer or television and who are illiterate, that is, those who are not affected. A comprehensive strategy would have included developing a plan with regional authorities, constituency MPs, religious organizations and local organizations to get the message out.