In the past few days there has been much criticism of the Government’s handling of the communication about a possible fuel strike. Commentators have pointed to recent communications and pronouncements as the cause of the panic buying of fuel. So, if what the Government did was so flawed then what should they have done to avoid the scenes we are currently seeing?
I decided to think through alternative communications plans that could have been used to manage the situation. Obviously, what you would do depends on what you want to achieve but I am assuming for this blog that the aim will be to reassure people about the contingency plans in place.
One of the most important things is to have clear key messages that support your aim. It sounds simple but it is something that has been noticeably absent from the recent communications. Anyone watching Question Time last night will have seen politicians tying themselves in knots trying to explain the messages that have been given out. The message clearly has to be about the negotiation and discussions that would be taking place, and to avoid any discussion about imminent strikes. In starting to tell people what to do if there was a strike the Government have created a self fulfilling prophecy of panic. Instead focus on the positive work taking place and have a relaxed approach that will help keep people calm. Don’t tell people to stay calm because they will always panic.
The next point is to be clear who you need to speak to first and to prioritise the communication. I would suggest other agencies, petrol retailers and emergency services would be the starting point for communication. Essential to this is to ensure that agencies who will be approached for comment by the media are all clear what the key messages are. Discussions on contingency planning have, and do, obviously take place and it is during these meetings that the communication plan should be signed off.
Moving ahead when we start to look at the best tactics to achieve the aim there is so much that could have been done instead of speeches and pronouncements to the media. Considered interviews appropriately handled to cover the main points and most importantly the planning process would have worked better than apparently off-the-cuff remarks. Letting other agencies deal with advice including the Fire Service would have reduced the impact on the Government. And sometimes the best thing is to say nothing and to wait to speak at the most appropriate time. Also, let’s not forget the opportunities from using social media.
I am not going to go into the evaluation of the plan because you don’t need to do research to know whether the current plan is working. The queues at the petrol pumps and the media reporting clearly show that something has gone wrong. The next stage is to review the plan and get it back on track.
I could go on and on but I won’t. The bottom line in all this is that a clear plan was needed. A plan that had been carefully thought through and one that all the relevant agencies could support. The worst thing is to turn an issue into a crisis because of the communication.