Are our questions being answered on the Coronavirus? Not enough it seems. ScoMo has invested $17bn to support the country, and spoken to us in a heavily promoted television address. But there are lessons for all of us in communications.

For context, you can view the Prime Minister’s address below.

Video Transcript

Liam Cox:

Scott Morrison’s address to the nation. The reviews have been mixed. Peter Wilkinson, did you feel informed, reassured, inspired?

Peter Wilkinson:

Well, certainly not inspired. So, let’s talk positives, then the negatives from a corporate affairs point of view. The first is he said three things that the best is being done for our health, the best is being done to save our jobs and we will get through this. Now, what’s missing? Australians are really practical people and I don’t think from a corporate affairs point of view, he understood what Australians want to hear. On the same day that he did that broadcast, the United States has closed its borders. Italy has gone crazy. And Angela Merkel said that, “Unless something is done, 60 to 70% of Germans are going to contract the coronavirus.”

So that’s a springboard. So if Germany is saying something has to be done to prevent 60 or 70%, is Australia exposed to the same extent? If not, why not? What actually, in very practical terms, are we doing? I work with a group of CEOs. There are 15 of them. When we last spoke just a couple of days ago, there was huge variation in their understanding of the coronavirus and the impact it was going to have on them and their families and their workforce. Right down to a misunderstanding or a variety of understandings of how you close, how you wash your hands. Really, and the etiquette of handshaking, for instance, or of how you greet people. There was no understanding of what was appropriate and what was inappropriate.

Liam Cox:

There’s a feeling among many people that Scott Morrison struggles to connect and he struggled to develop trust. Did he strike the right tone in his address?

Peter Wilkinson:

So the Twitter feeds were telling us that he was treating us like school kids. That he was being a bit patronizing. If you’re in a crisis, you’ve got a massive opportunity to think about the way you present. And so if you sound… So for those who saw the presentations, Gomer was sitting in a chair, he was fairly relaxed. It was sort of a warm, semi emotional conversation.

Liam Cox:

Some would say smug. That’s what some people are saying.

Peter Wilkinson:

Okay. Right.

Liam Cox:

He came across as smug.

Peter Wilkinson:

Okay. Well, the way he could have done it would have been to start with would have been, standing and say, “There are three really important points I want to make tonight.” Instead of making it relaxed. “And then I’m going to tell you where we’re headed.” This is the first point, bang, bang, bang. Here are some facts, bang, bang, bang. Second point, bang, bang. And don’t underestimate the urgency of this. This is a very serious situation for Australia, that kind of stuff. In a crisis situation that creates trust and people will be able to relate to situations where their bosses or somebody else or a footy coach has said some pretty aggressive stuff at the right moment and how it rings true, and people don’t get upset by it. They actually take strength from it.

Liam Cox:

This is without doubt the greatest communications challenge of our time. So many industries, so many businesses, so many individuals have been affected. What should companies be doing and how can the government practically help?

Peter Wilkinson:

Well, that last bit is the sacred. The government needs to tell companies what they need to be doing.

Liam Cox:

Right.

Peter Wilkinson:

But also individuals. And again, from a corporate affairs point of view, I would be recommending in a situation like this, that ScoMo organizes the three minutes before the six o’clock news on commercial television when you’re reaching the biggest audience in the country. But also maybe at three minutes before the 8:30 change, but also similarly on social media for the young people who don’t watch TV anymore. But really practical things such as what we were talking about, but also how to clean the common areas in a house or in a business. To what extent do you actually need to do it? How thorough is thorough clean? If somebody in the house is sick, how do you isolate them from the rest of the family? If somebody is sick in the office, do you have to send them home if they’ve just got a cold or is a sniffle okay? Those kinds of really basic information. People are listening for that now. And when people are asking questions, that’s the time you give them the information.

Liam Cox:

Misinformation, fear, panic, there’s plenty of that out there at the moment. Is there any upside to the crisis? Can we change behaviours for the better, through really good communication?

Peter Wilkinson:

Okay. So you’ve heard the saying, crisis presents an opportunity. That isn’t true all the time, but it is true when you’ve got anxiety. And right now we have the whole of Australia being anxious, rivet to the news, hungry for information. So it’s a massive opportunity to create Australia wide change. And an example of that would be in people’s health because if you’re healthier than your less likely or your immune system is going to be able to better combat the coronavirus.

So the messages could be, if you’re a smoker, now is a good time to reduce it if you can. If you’re a bit overweight, now’s the time to lose a bit of weight if you can, in preparation for the winter season. If you’re not fit enough, now’s the time to start walking, jogging, bike riding, whatever, to get fit so that your immune system is strong to manage the virus. And for companies and for people who run units inside companies, now’s the time to press on them to increase productivity, because people are worried about job losses. Australia’s productivity is slipping behind other countries, some other countries. And so now’s the time to talk about reducing paperwork, making the tax system simpler, reforming a raft of legislation that slows down productivity.

Liam Cox:

Peter Wilkinson, some really good practical advice. You stay healthy. Everyone out there, look after for yourselves.