The press conference from No. 10 Downing Street to announce a new lockdown descended to a new low in government communications.

First of all the British Prime Minister kept us all waiting. Announced for 5pm it started 100 minutes later. Yet there were no surprises; the message had been leaked 24 hours before to the Times so we all knew what was coming. So why the delay? Well certainly it was not so a competent comms professional and designer could get the slide pack together.

What was Cummings up to? The slides were a  cut and paste of Cobra and NHS stats that might have made sense in a Cabinet briefing (had there been one) but were unreadable on a TV screen and ridiculously over-complex.

It is unlikely that Alex Aitken and his team of government comms experts could have been in the room when this presentation was cobbled together. In the following morning’s Times Ron Neil, who knows a thing or two about communicating complex news stories on the BBC castigated No 10.

“The charts that Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty put on the screen at these press briefings may be fine for a conference when there is time to study them, but they are hopeless for a few brief seconds on the TV screen,” complained the former head of BBC News. “There is far too much information, the type sizes are ofter too small to read, and sometimes part of the image is bleeding off the side of the screen. No 10 should take a lesson from the TV news channels, whose graphics are simple and easy for the already confused audience to follow.”

Any IC professional would say the same. It appears that the government team simply simply ran out of prep time, which is surprising given that the opposition predicted this news conference a fortnight earlier.

Fionnuala O’Conor, CEO of OpDem commented on Linkedin;

“This and other briefings strike me as anti-comms – instead of being aimed at getting the audience to think/act in a concerted way, they seem designed to confuse, distract and disengage. In other contexts I’ve seen anti-comms as a holding tactic that attempts to disguise lack of strategy and allow time for catch-up planning or for the next shiny new thing to come along. Given the subject matter, it would be tragic if that’s what’s going on here.”

Frances Rooke, an event manager added;

“And the key messages in Saturday’s press conference were buried at the end – after the complicated slides and the recap from the Prime Minister. I was astounded for all the wrong reasons, but not surprised unfortunately. It was the same when they announced the first restrictions on Greater Manchester via Twitter, less than three hours before they came into force. Consistently there is little or no consideration of the people receiving these messages.”

THE AUTHOR

Lisa Pantelli, head of content & community

Lisa is simply’s head of content and community. She is an award-winning employee engagement and internal communications specialist.

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