Woman with hands over her eyes

A report, a Prime Minister and an attempt to move on

It has taken many weeks, but on 25 May we finally got to see the Sue Gray report into the lockdown parties at the heart of the Government. The way this whole situation has been handled is far from effective crisis communication.

The latest communication had further apologies in a sorry, not sorry way. There are times when an apology works but it has to be accompanied by behaviour that supports what you are saying. Throughout the PM’s statement in Parliament and the subsequent press conference, sincerity was not in evidence.

One of the key elements of crisis communication that is vital at the start of a problem is recognising that there is a crisis happening. Just telling people ‘there is nothing to see here’ is not going to work. Whatever you try to do as a distraction people will see through it.

Let us just consider the wording that was used in the statements. It is important to remember that words matter. The choice of words you use can make the situation worse if not carefully thought through. I winced with the use of ‘learning the lessons’ which is an overused phrase essentially meaning very little. Boris Johnson said he had ‘humility’ at a time when little was on show, and said he ‘took full responsibility’ before quickly pointing out he wasn’t there. It is simply not good enough to wash your hands of problems in your home, workplace or organisation.

The body language that was demonstrated did nothing to make the words more convincing. I am sure there are experts writing blogs or chapters, in soon to be published books, analysing what was on display.

Above all these things, the response failed to recognise the real human impact and tragedy associated with what happened and that time in our lives. The wife who now wishes she had taken a fixed penalty to be with her dying husband. The sons and daughters unable to give their parents the funeral they deserved. The hard working doctors and nurses who died due to their work on the frontline of the pandemic. Against that human suffering saying ‘it is time to move on’ and that people deserved leaving do’s just isn’t enough.

This all became more personal to me as I have been helping to plan my Mum’s funeral. At a time of great stress and grief, we just want to do things right. We keep saying there is only one chance to say goodbye as we want to. I can’t begin to imagine how people doing this at a time of Covid restrictions coped at the time. But also the anger they must feel when they see the behaviour from those making the rules at the top of Government.

My heart goes out to all those people who have been affected by what has happened. You all deserve so much better.

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Crisis comms, FCIPR. FPRCA, PRCA trainer, Chartered Assessor. Former PRCA Council chair. Women in PR ambassador.

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