Communications and information clarity – or lack of – have been firmly under the microscope in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. News in all its forms, from the Prime Minister’s address to planned routes around supermarkets, have been drafted, shared, and evaluated more than ever before.
Staying ahead of the curve has proven central to the ‘business as usual’ approach adopted by CDS, the communications agency trusted by the likes of the NHS, Ministry of Defence, and the Cabinet Office. Here, Justin Mackenzie, Ministry of Defence (MOD) account manager at CDS, explores how the conversation is changing.
As the old saying goes, ‘it’s good to talk’. And, in recent months, we have seen colleagues and clients listening intently to the latest updates on the pandemic – and understand how it might relate to their personal circumstances.
While relations should never go ‘cold’ in times of trouble, Matt Hancock’s announcement around local lockdowns – on Twitter – last month has brought conversations around all forms of messaging, to an all-time high.
Lockdown challenges to overcome
First, consider how things have changed already. Across the board, there was an initial downturn in the demand for promotional printing and branded merchandise, with the focus instead shifting to social distancing infographics and return-to-work information.
However, given many manufacturing suppliers closed their doors in line with the lockdown, there is now an inevitable backlog of orders for those which have since reopened, and lengthy lead times as a result.
Yet, the need to ‘get a message out there’ remains. And, in the space of a few short months, the content shared, and process of dissemination, has been forced to adapt accordingly.
While printed materials offer the opportunity to pick up a document, annotate and pass it on to another person, the regulations around social distancing and hand washing means it’s perhaps much easier to read a digital guide, or watch a short instructional video.
Take the MOD as an example. Such a diverse organisation would ordinarily rely on a mixture of digital and printed comms – both centrally and across a multitude of locations. And, particularly during these unprecedented times, it’s important to remember that not everyone will have unfettered digital access.
As such, print is looking likely to make a strong return. And not just in the traditional sense of letters and flyers. As personnel across the UK slowly start to return to the office, there is an increasing demand for clear messaging across all aspects of the day-to-day.
2020 buzzword: ‘the new normal’
Alongside visible communications around shift patterns, directional signage and health and safety instructions, there are calls for a raft of easy-to-follow information which identifies and demonstrates changes in practice.
This so-called ‘new normal’ means firms the world over are looking for floor graphics, branded tape, café barriers, personalised face masks and desk separators. Going one step further, thermal imaging technology – and the infrastructure which supports the implementation of entry-point body scans – is on the rise, too.
Putting it into practice
Companies are looking for joined-up solutions. The imperative is stronger than ever to combine communications across multiple customer touch points.
Take another CDS client as an example. A public health department which routinely manages patient screening for cancer. The admin team might adopt a printed approach to inviting people to an appointment via letters to their homes.
From that point onwards though, the journey is a digital once, with the envelope pointing the recipient to a dedicated website – via a bespoke URL – to select their time and date for seeing the doctor. This, in turn, feeds into an SMS service which confirms the booking via text and sends a reminder in the days leading up to the appointment.
In such cases, patient data is automatically scanned each week with those who meet certain criteria – such as age, location and date since last appointment – then enrolled into the communication cycle when required.
Next, consider MOD recruitment drives and conferences. While physical ‘meet-ups’ may be replaced by virtual conferences for now, a joined-up approach to content distribution would not only ensure you ‘capture’ the attention of a target demographic, but it also helps to make the entire end-to-end process more efficient.
Prior to the event, regular, multi-channel messaging will keep the date front-and-centre, reducing the likelihood of a ‘no show’, while post-event mailers can be pre-planned and automatically activated in the days, weeks or months following a meeting.
It’s not just COVID-19 which threatens to change the way we communicate however – as the world could be quite different as Brexit becomes a reality in 2021. The most obvious is the potential for the raw materials associated with print – such as paper and oils – being subject to import-related price increases.
Couple that with a heightened focus on environmentally friendly solutions and the potential for long-term adoption of remote working strategies, and the usual demand for printed marketing materials, letters and guides may shift even further toward digital communications.
While it’s impossible to predict the long-term impact of coronavirus, the pandemic has certainly proven the need for firms to adapt, to be flexible, resilient and open to using multiple methods of communications.
The key is to have empathy for your audiences, understand their communications needs and build a communications strategy – across the most effective print and digital touch points – to deliver the best results for both your organisation and audience.