5 Critical Tips for Communicating During a Pandemic

In a health crisis, communicating important information to people quickly is crucial. 

The challenge of communicating important messages during COVID-19 resembles what was faced during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. During that period, Acart worked with the Public Health Agency of Canada to inform Canadians about the risks of the virus, and to help promote some key preventative behaviours. 

In the end, we both achieved our objectives, and learned some important lessons.  

As we face another public health crisis, here a collection of five critical tips for communicating during a pandemic.

1. Make it easy for people to find important information online.
When “Swine Flu” reports first started to appear in the media in the spring of 2009, Canadians turned to Google for information. Our team worked quickly to purchase flu- and symptom-related keywords for Search Engine Marketing so that the Public Health Agency of Canada’s credible information appeared.

2. Provide straightforward advice.
Personal and social hygiene is a major part of the COVID-19 public health strategy as it was with H1N1. Developing simple, clear messaging helps get the word out about practical actions that make a difference– like washing your hands, or covering your mouth when you cough.

3. Be ready
Before H1N1 hit, Acart developed advertising for the H5N1 virus, advance-tested it in focus groups across Canada, to have it ready in case avian influenza became a threat. When H1N1 hit instead, the communication plan was quickly and easily modified and rolled out.

4. Move quickly.
The most important thing is to be agile and ready to react to changes. While social media can be developed and edited quickly, traditional ad platforms like TV, radio and print can take a bit more time. During H191, we created design and audio templates for projects that helped speed up production times allowing for quick turnaround.

5. Give a reassuring face to the fight.
A familiar face builds trust. In our work with the Public Health Agency of Canada during H1N1, we worked with Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Butler-Jones to include his reassuring image and respected voice on all advertising encouraging people to get the shot.

Canada ended up having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, estimated by the Health Portfolio at between 40 and 45 percent

What’s different today?

A lot has changed since 2009. In the age of social media we have to consider:

  • More people are accessible online than ever before. 
  • Public and private partnerships have more potential than ever, examples include Facebook’s free advertising for the World Health Organization or Twitter’s link to the Public Health Agency of Canada for information seekers. 
  • Audiences are easier to reach thanks to targeting and retargeting improvements. 
  • Strategic adjustments can be made quickly based on instant analytics and real-time public feedback.
  • Production happens quicker, and information gets out faster. 

Need help communicating in a crisis? We’re here to help!

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