To communicate in times of crisis, many of the world’s major companies and political brands have in recent months appealed to emotions, feelings and empathy. Actions with a degree of difficulty when carrying them out, taking into account the confinement and the moment in which many communication professionals live.
At first, many of those messages were exciting and surprising, not anymore. To be original, authentic and genuine in politics is almost a utopia. The fact is that faced with such a flood of messages in the media, social networks, WhatsApp and other channels, citizens feel indifferent. To move is to impress, to impress is to shake, to shake is to connect, to connect is to empathise.
Even with so much difficulty, we have had time to reflect, but have we thought about what we are really doing from the political parties or from those who are most closely related to politics? Frankly, I think not. The saturation of messages along the lines of “we all stop this virus”, “together we will win”, “we will feel again”, “we are all united before the covid19 “, “the new normality”, “it is time to pitch in” rather than encouraging what they are currently doing is to make people distrust them. For the first days of the much hated confinement, it is fine, but at this point, the citizens expect another line of much more hopeful messages and with much more direct and concrete words.
In political communication, repeating a message several times in a context, written article, publication or other appearance of a leader or political brand, is fine, in fact, it is one of the most used techniques to make the speeches permeate and remain in the memory of society. The problem here is that the continuous repetition of the same message so similar to the others and for so long loses effectiveness. The messages in politics have to evolve as the days go by, the situation the world was living in March 2020 is not at all the same as these days, therefore, the message is not the same either. To all this, this type of repeated sequence of words has gone from reflecting that everything is fine, everyone is at home, the works will return, to a reality that is not at all like that.
That is why leaders and political parties have to open windows and let fresh air into the current atmosphere of the communication teams, whether they are working in government or from the front of the political opposition. There is a lack of empathy with the real problems of many people, with an uncertainty that is growing every day, with what is really happening in the streets when you leave home.
TELEWORKING IN POLITICS
It is true that teleworking has allowed at least a percentage of day-to-day work to continue, but it is clearly not enough. Showing political meetings every day in the already well-known screenshots of public representatives, coupled with messages of “we’re still teleworking”, what do you hope to achieve?
People already know you’re at home connected to a screen behind Skype, Zoom or Google Meet. More than bringing hope, what is causing is indifference, even rejection. Imagine for a moment, a small family who has lost their job, where several children can’t stop crying, the neighbor plays an instrument out of tune, and they can’t go outside. While entering a moment on Facebook or Instagram, they see a meeting of public leaders engaged in a quiet conversation from their virtual meeting. Nothing has changed, the same is still being done, but from home where is the change really? It is in the perception that citizens have about those parties or political leaders who have humanized and naturalized their public appearances.
TO COMMUNICATE IN TIMES OF CRISIS
The best act of communication is the one that becomes a fact, the rest are intentions. Now more than ever we must communicate evidence, not promises. Work and work for an empathetic and true message. It is a pandemic and a situation of global health crisis, if citizens have changed to a new life, political brands have to adapt to this new scenario as well. If we ask the population for commitment, let us set an example, let us give specific solutions.
There is no better way of communicating than really getting involved in family problems and needs, there is no need to make so much noise. Communicating also means being in solidarity with our message, letting the other party speak and listening to them. A good example would be to hear or see a political leader or public official say what he or she has done today to improve the quality of life in society. Then, the most important thing that we are working on for next week, is to go no further. Small, short, real and tangible objectives.
We live in a knowledge society of the now, of the already, what happened five minutes ago is forgotten by many.
People don’t buy washing machines now, they want clean clothes.
There are leaders who have worked on their communication with great caution, even stopping appearing frequently so as not to harass and let their followers and people close to them breathe. Those public and private agents for whom time has not passed, who do not understand what has happened and who has changed absolutely nothing, deserve a special mention. What is there a global pandemic that has killed thousands of people? I am going about my business.
Gone are the early days when irresponsible shopping put many people in a state of fear. Political and business communication at that time was surpassed by other issues to be launched to the citizens, it was understandable.
Not all those responsible for what happens when a message is transmitted are the rulers and political leaders. We as a “civilized” society should filter and think a little more before forwarding or disseminating information, not everything goes. It has been quite a few weeks since that 14th March, more than enough time for institutional communication to rethink its way of acting.
Communication that should more than ever be in the hands of responsible people, people with common sense. Professionals who know how to make political brands see the need to stop, that not everything should be informed, that not everything should appear or be published in any medium and in all at once.
The national governments, of autonomous communities, with provincial or municipal character have had to manage in parallel the doing and the communicating. This is a very difficult task, so that more than ever before, the essential need to produce an accurate, sensitive message with content that can be understood and appreciated by people of all social levels is taken into account.
A little political psychology would be very good. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The public seeks to hold on to what it sees or hears. A few weeks ago I was reading in some media like the radio that had regained the throne of public trust in terms of communicative credibility. Then follows the television, the press and far away everything that is published in the online media. Draw your own conclusions.
In this government communication and in that of any public institution, it is clear that a series of phases have been passed through, which, in the form of episodes, may well resemble a science fiction film.
The first of them at the beginning of the year where the excess of confidence and the “here it won’t come” took by surprise and with the clothes hanging out to any country. The WHO proclaimed that we were close to an unprecedented pandemic, both actively and passively, and no country paid any attention. You could see those images of thousands of Italians stampeding out of the first affected regions, but once again, peace of mind, it was only in Italy and China. Then came the toilet paper crisis and the razing of any supermarket we had close to home.
The second phase was when March arrived, yes the month of March. It changed the rhythm and life of every living thing on earth. What do we communicate? We went in just a moment from “calm, everything is controlled, nothing will happen here” to the lack of control, as we have to save lives. And the appearances of technicians, experts in health matters, leaders of the security forces, governors, even the mayors of the most unknown municipalities began to take a step forward, recording their first videos and appearances in improvised press conferences.
Data, numbers, cities, cases, more data, more data, more data… If there is one thing that a communications office must take into account, it is to know that it can understand who finally receives a message, man, woman, child, young, old, Spanish, German, rich, poor, sportsman or if he likes horses. If we add to this complexity information that in cases was not reliable, the confusion becomes devastating. We’d better leave the issue of masks for another article. I don’t think I have ever seen such an element of disagreement between the political parties, closely followed by the gloves. Communicating is something else, communicating is much more serious.
And then came the penultimate phase, the de-escalation. A phase that will accompany us for a long time, who knows if the rest of our lives. The discovery of a vaccine will calm down and put a new starting point in the political, economic and social way of life. What I am not so sure about is whether it will give birth to a new way of communicating politically. I feel very strange greeting someone with my elbow and standing in line to pick up bread. Non-verbal political communication is fed by greetings, meetings, forms of gesture. When these circumstances are not present, an enormous vacuum is created, a breeding ground for the birth of new fake news.
In the battlefield against COVID-19, many of the errors in political communication have been the result of a lack of foresight and of not having prepared the protocols for action in the face of crisis situations in communication. Errors that in many cases were justifiable, nobody knew what was going to happen. Unjustifiable errors in assuming things that were not so true. Another appreciable error has been seen in the interventions of many political leaders, of whatever political colour, too much rhetoric. We need to be more concise and clear, much more so.
The human mindsets its attention to eight seconds and in just three seconds is able to understand and summarise what it sees and hears. In those inputs the message has to be clear, the rest is secondary.
There are many more, such as parallel press conferences, variations on the dates when the planes arrive with the medical equipment, which if my state governs it, or if the president of a community wants to hang a medal before someone else that is not relevant, and the well-known “and you more…”.
In Latin America and other EU countries, the picture has not been different, as those affected by the coronavirus increase, the discourse is lost in a jungle of confrontation. This is a priceless task for health professionals and other public services who have been exposed daily to the millions of infections in the world.
But we must also value the successes, the good intentions. Not everything is so negative. The much acclaimed reinvention is possible. How much politics can be done behind a computer or a smartphone, how many messages can be sent worrying about someone.
There is still much to be improved in political communication, so much so that this is a unique opportunity to assume and interiorise that what is really important is how we make the person who receives an idea or a simple phrase feel.
But of course, people don’t want washing machines now, they want clean clothes…
Political Hispanic is not responsible for the content of the opinion articles, each author being responsible for his or her own creations. Translated by Political Hispanic