A doctor's prescription for communications: what we learnt from Dr Ashley Bloomfield - Campbell Squared
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A doctor’s prescription for communications: what we learnt from Dr Ashley Bloomfield

When asking a New Zealander what they associate with COVID-19, you’d likely get a list that looks a bit like this:  lockdowns, vaccination, and Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

The Director-General of Health became a familiar face to many during the pandemic. While Aotearoa stayed home to save lives during the first lockdown, many turned their televisions on at 1pm each day for the latest updates from Dr Bloomfield and politicians alike.

This month, the Director-General has announced his resignation, more than two years after the first case of the virus was confirmed in New Zealand.

In those two years, we’ve learnt a lot about social distancing and masking up – but what has Dr Bloomfield taught us about the importance of having a spokesperson in the face of a crisis?

Humanising your messaging gives people something to connect with

Giving a face and a voice to a message helps people connect to the words. As people, we are driven by our connection to others. In a moment of crisis, it’s natural to look to another person for support, to connect on your shared experience, and to listen.

Putting forth a likeable spokesperson to connect with your audiences and relay the right messaging is crucial to getting buy-in from your audience. Dr Ashley Bloomfield is a great example of this.

Choosing the right spokesperson is crucial. When picking your person, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Do they speak from a place of authority? Audiences are more likely to place trust in people with experience and knowledge in the subject, or who hold high-ranking positions.
  • Do they exhibit likable traits? Being charismatic, authentic, and relatable are vital to building a genuine connection.

If the answer to both of those questions is a resounding ‘yes’ – you might have found your person.

Keeping it simple ensures people understand you

We’ve largely learnt to live with COVID-19, but two years ago, it was a medical mystery. There was very little understanding about what the virus was, its symptoms, and how it would affect our lives.

Keeping messaging simple ensures people can listen without being distracted by trains of thought, such as: “What does that word mean?”

Speaking from authority is important, but it is all for nothing if your messaging gets lost in translation.

To ensure your spokesperson is being heard, it’s important to ask yourself: “How would I explain this to somebody who knows nothing about the subject? What language would I use?”

On several occasions, simple and short sayings were used by Dr Bloomfield to get the message across. “Stay home. Save lives.” is one clear example of this.

By arming your spokesperson with a toolkit full of simple messaging, you are giving your organisation a great chance to get your point across to its audiences.

Consistency is key

A good spokesperson can be like a good friend. The more often you see them, the more you feel like you know them. The more you know them, the more likely you are to trust what they’re telling you.

The same principles apply to a spokesperson. Dr Bloomfield filled in the time where we’d usually chat to colleagues in the staff room, updating us on the lay of the land. He was on our screens every day as a consistent informant and voice of reason.

By the end of the first lockdown, Dr Bloomfield was referred to by his first name in conversations with your loved ones. He was familiar and he was trusted – which is what all spokespeople should be aiming for.

When you choose your spokesperson, make sure they’re liked – but also make sure they’re available to speak when they need to. Being a spokesperson shouldn’t be treated as a one-off engagement, especially not in a crisis either.

People want, and need, to see consistency if they are to form a trusted relationship with the talker and in turn connect with the messaging.

If you think you’ve found your organisation’s answer to the Director-General of Health and want help creating a toolkit of tips, tricks, and messaging, get in touch with us here at C2.

The C2 tīma also wishes Dr Bloomfield the best for his next chapter – whether it involves 1pm updates or not.