All PR should be local in a Pandemic

This photo of a Covid-19 vaccination team in the Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise was tweeted by the HSE but was not supplied to local media.
The name of Irish American politician Tipp O’Neill is etched in global political parlance because of the phrase he coined – ‘all politics is local’.
In a global pandemic perhaps it’s time to coin a new phrase – all PR should be local.
A blog on PRMR Inc says: “Building local community relationships can be the most important communication activity undertaken by an organisation, yet it is often overlooked”.
A big question faced by all in Ireland involved in controlling Covid-19 is: Have they overlooked communicating locally and focused nationally?
I’ve interviewed journalists in the midlands who feel local messaging is missing.
One well known reporter said of the experience: “I would say, in general, from a local perspective, it (PR response) would have been poor.”
The journalist described trying to confirm that a testing centre was opening akin to ‘going around the houses’. He finally got confirmation from a national press office.
A local newspaper editor describes the experience of dealing with the health service as evolving. He says more focus should have been placed on communicating with communities through local media.
“I believe there is a greater trust among the general population in local media, particularly regional newspapers, and this relationship should have been exploited/ used by the HSE in its communications strategy. That relationship of trust is strongest among older generations which are most at risk during this pandemic,” he said.
A public relations professional agrees that local media is ‘definitely’ an important way to reach communities and staff.
“We could be resourced better but I believe that this pandemic has provided real learnings and afforded us with a renewed focus on local communication,” she said.
There is evidence of this through various initiatives. Ireland’s health services have worked with local media to reach communities with tailored messages.
One such idea was series of ‘day in the life’ features by frontline Covid-19 staff in midland hospitals. There was a drive to connect with communities in the summer of 2020. (Example pictured below as published in the Leinster Express).

However, the momentum lagged as the initiative was driven by individual PR professionals.

Part of the problem that Ireland’s health service has in reaching local communities consistently is down to the absence of designated PR staff based in regions outside Dublin.

If it had a network of such offices in situ, the communications ground battle against Covid-19 could have been fought locally.

Instead, the communications history of Covid-19 in Ireland will be one of a crisis management PR response driven nationally aimed at national and social media.

Communication peaked during the three waves. It was reactionary. It heavily relied on the CMO Dr Tony Holohan and his NPHET colleagues, HSE CEO, Paul Reid and politicians with varying success.

Perhaps if an ‘all PR is local in a pandemic’ had been deployed, fatigue listening to the ‘same old voices’ would not have been an issue when the curved flattened.