“The biggest problem with communication, is the illusion that it has taken place” George Bernard Shaw
Anne Kearney – Communications Manager with the Department of Social Protection reflects on importance of communications during the Covid 19 crisis.
Anne Kearney is the Communications Manager for the Department the Social Protection. Anne had only recently taken on her role when the Covid 19 pandemic hit Ireland. In a Mediascope interview with Ellen Gunning, Anne discusses what it was like to be responsible for communicating to the country during this unprecedented crisis. Delivering information on restrictions and covid payments at a time when nobody really knew what was going on. As the pandemic spread around the world, everyone knew that it would eventually hit Ireland. This was certainly the case within the departments of the government. Behind the scenes the scenes there needed to be a reactive response so that the public could get the information they wanted or at least all possible information that could be made public at that point in time. For the Department of Social Protection, this would the challenge for Anne Kearney and her team.
Start of The Pandemic
On March 12th 2020, Leo Varadkar announced the initial restrictions that would help lower the rate of infections. Varadkar was in Washington at the time to celebrate St Patrick’s Day as part of an annual tradition. The instruction the Taoiseach gave to the public on that day had to be distributed across all forms of media in order to reach every single member of the Irish population regardless of demographic. While the initial focus was on health, it very quickly came to include the Department of Social Protection, as people found themselves out work as a result of the restrictions. This was the job of Anne and her team. Her team used TV, radio, newspapers and a range of social media sites to get information out to the public. They employed social media monitoring to see how the message was being received and what part of the messaging needed to be clarified.
When it was announced that there was going to be a covid payment. There was a race against time to get the right information out and have it ready for the public. The Pandemic Unemployment (PUP) form is estimated to have been downloaded every 10 seconds for the first 48 hours. Throughout this process, the communications team had to make sure everything was written in plain English that everyone could understand. The process had to be user friendly and accessible to all. However, the challenge was not only on communicating with the public, but internal communications also became vitally important.
Anne had to balance the needs of her team, many who were suddenly working remotely and dealing with new challenges, including childcare and working from home arrangements. There was also the need of collaboration across all government department to ensure that everyone was delivering the same message. Anne emphasized the need for clear internal communications in a crisis to avoid miscommunication and the possibility of spreading confusion among the public.
Looking back at the past 2 years, Anne has reflected on her time dealing with the Covid 19 crisis. Her key messages from this time is for communications professionals to remember some key points. “Remember you are not your own audience”, she tells us, noting the importance of language in a crisis and to avoid using jargon that will confuse the message. She also stresses how integral it is to have one clear message, especially when a number of departments are involved. And her final advice, “communicate, communicate, communicate”!
Where We Are Now
Since the early days of the pandemic and now as we start to re-enter the offices, Ireland has seen many restrictions eased and reinstated. At the time of writing, it was just announced that all restrictions were to be lifted. This comes after just shy of two years of limitations on our activities and the people we could meet. Now that the worst seems to be behind us. It does seem that the start of the pandemic feels like it was so long ago. Going into a summer with little to no restrictions is some of the best news that anyone could hear.