This post is about effective communications. Actually, it is about ineffective communications and the example I am going to use is the U.S. government’s communications related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am not here to argue about whether getting a COVID-19 shot is a good idea or not. I am here to talk about (in)effective communication.
That said, it is only now, nearly a year and a half into the pandemic (and 6 months into the Biden administration) that I would suggest that while the communications are focused, clear, relevant, and convincing they are not widely enough disseminated. To wit we are being told:
- People who are getting sick enough to be hospitalized are almost 100% people who have not been vaccinated;
- People who are dying are almost 100% people who have not been vaccinated; and
- People who say differently are wrong.
Those are pretty strong and convincing messages supported (in the communications) by the numbers. But, the communications are not reaching the most important part of their target market, those that are vaccine hesitant—more on that later.
If Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s or Walmart was as bad as getting their message out as the government has been they would certainly be “C minus” players and possibly be out of business. And, the stakes associated with COVID-19 related messaging are much higher than in the soft drink, fast food or mass retailing spaces.
What follows are four things that anyone that has a message they want to communicate should do:
- Make sure you know what the message you want to convey is and keep it simple. For example, the folks responsible for Drunk Driving Prevention campaigns want you to know three things: 1) Drinking and Driving don’t mix; 2) Drunk drivers kill people; and 3) If you drink and drive you will get caught. That campaign has been successful because the government knows what they want to say, they say it simply and they repeat it over and over.
The government’s messaging program on COVID-19 is just getting to that point. And, it is still clearly weak on some points. For instance, I see painfully little said about vaccination being as much or more about your family, loved ones and community as it is about the individual. That is a simple and powerful message that seems to have gotten lost.
- Spend the time to make sure that it is crafted in the most effective way possible. This means assembling a team that includes both subject matter experts (like Dr. Fauci) and people who are experts on communications. Why didn’t the government involve the people responsible for Apple’s marketing or Lin Manuel Miranda to do a take off of his My Shot song? I figured that out a long time ago and I am not a master communicator. When I have an important message and want to get it out, I consult/recruit an expert to help me craft the communications. The point is I may know what I want to say, but I am not the best resource when it comes to how to deliver that message.
- Figure out how to make sure that you know your audience and that they hear the message. How not to do it: Most of the COVID-19 vaccine-related communication is being delivered via the news. There are a couple of problems with that:
- If you listen to a news outlet that chooses not to carry statements by the people who are the experts and are saying these things, you probably aren’t hearing the message; and
- The last place I would put something that I wanted to communicate is the evening news. I would put it there, but it would be the last place. If I want to sell something, I would be on social media, prime time television, sports programming and a variety of other outlets each of which allows me to target my audience and get the message out.
Think about it for a second. There are three types of people related to COVID acceptance:
- Those who are on board. They don’t really need convincing;
- Those who are adamantly against the idea of a vaccine. You aren’t going to change their mind; and
- Those who are on the fence.
The last group is your target audience. Figure out what messages and communications channels have the highest likelihood of finding and resonating with this group. I would venture to say what channels those might be, but I have no expertise in that area (get it?) and will therefore demure on making suggestions in areas where I have no expertise.
- Evaluate the communications plan’s effectiveness regularly and make adjustments, especially when the program is not working. If your message is not being received and acted on, it isn’t working. It is like hitting your head against the wall. It is just crazy; it hurts like heck and if nothing good is coming of it you are just banging you head against a wall.
It is embarrassing to me that my government has done such a miserable job communicating on such an important subject. How do I know that they have done a miserable job of communications? I just look at the vaccination rates.
That said, a communications program is just part of the overall vaccine program. Arguably, some of the other components (e.g. vaccine development and distribution) have been successful and helped to highlight the failure of communications element.
Finally, I find it ironic that someone who is really a pretty awful communicator recognizes this particular failure and seems to be the only one writing about it.
— you can find this (days earlier) and other posts at www.niden.com.
And, if you like this post: 1) please let me know; and 2) pass on your “find” to others.