By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Scomo’s latest AstraZeneca announcement on GP indemnity, and the hostile reaction from Premiers and Health Advisers, has backfired spectacularly, fuelling vaccine hesitancy and causing serious reputation damage.
This story went right off the rails. Instead of being reported as a win for the Government, it became another excuse to report bungling incompetence. It's a great reminder of the importance of delicate crisis communication, and how to sway public opinion through the media.
There are lots of insights here, but my main takeout is that if you want your ideas to dominate the media your spokespeople must cut through AND have support from eloquent, briefed, key opinion leaders. And while conflict will always get media attention, it is rarely the most strategic card to play.
In case you missed the outrage you can read it here. It’s also fascinating to read reports of what was actually discussed in National Cabinet and ponder why this idea was picked up and not, say, having frontline workers vaccinated.
But BEFORE the pro- and anti-vaxxer trolls get stuck into me: This is a communication blog, so I’m focusing on communication issues only. What was said, how it was reported and what we can do differently when we are managing our own crisis.
This was a major announcement in a hostile communication environment. There will be reaction, it will be hostile, and you have to cut through and keep focused on the main message.
There were many ways the Health Minister could come at this, and many ways to attract the media's attention. Instead he played a very straight bat – he led with a negative, focused on dry facts, and had less joy and colour than my Mother’s funeral:
“There is no change in the medical advice, that continues to be our guide. What has changed is to make sure that we have medical indemnity available for the doctors, and the program availability where individuals seek under those conditions”.
To appeal to younger Australians I’d advise pitching this as supporting freedom of choice rather than maintaining the status quo. For example:
“If you want the protection, and your Doctor is satisfied you understand the risk, we are supporting you in making that choice.”
I’d also line up a bunch of pro-choice and/or pro-AZ backup dancers to provide the colour and movement the media need to file the story. Don’t make journalists hunt for reaction, feed it to them on a platter.
The media will always go to the Premiers – and they were reasonably restrained – but I loved they way they used their Health Advisers to let fly, especially in the Labor-led states. And the winner is Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young:
"I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got COVID, probably wouldn’t die."
Concise, colourful and hit the impact nail on the head. A handful of well chosen words to elegantly flip the announcement and demonise the Government.
But there's a huge risk in playing the conflict card. It's easy to be seen as a carping attention seeker, and have your arguments dismissed. Annastacia Palaszczuk was pilloried for her "Slam the borders shut" line which came back to bite her when she was complaining about a lack of tourist dollars.
But whatever you do, don't blame the media. They're just doing their job – it's up to you to make sure they hear your argument and report the truth you need them to focus on.
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