the impact of coronavirus in london

Communicating in the time of coronavirus

‘Things will never be the same again’

The threat of coronavirus might have been around since the end of last year when the Wuhan outbreak made international news, but the last week in the UK (yes, that’s all it’s been) has given us a clearer idea of how disruptive life under COVID-19 will be. New terms like self-isolation and social distancing are now part of our every-day vocabulary.

The impact of the pandemic is already dramatically changing how we live, interact and work, and the situation is changing hour by hour, day by day. Making sense of this ‘new normal’ is especially difficult given that the UK’s infection rate is some weeks behind European neighbours like Italy and Spain. As one of our GLOBALHealthPR colleagues in Italy said last week: “Things will never be the same again”.

Compassion, stability, honesty… and hope

In times of crisis, people look for compassion, stability, honesty and hope for the future from leadership. Anxiety is felt just as keenly by internal teams in the workplace. While the government rightly takes the lead on the response to the crisis, businesses, too, are stepping up. We’ve seen luxury conglomerate LVMH adapt its perfume production lines to make hand sanitiser to meet sky-high demand in France and, in China, at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in February, electronics giant Foxconn switched a proportion of its production from Apple iPhones to make surgical masks. Pharma too has a big part to play and we are seeing collaboration on a massive scale to provide much needed medicines and even video-calling devices in ICUs to connect those unable to be in contact with others.

Examples such as these show how business can be a force for good while responding appropriately to the changing context. That’s why people still need to connect with a company’s message so long as that message is thoughtful and communicated with sensitivity. This isn’t a time to be silent as long as what is said is considered and considerate. People will be looking to credible voices and organisations to help make sense of the world.

Changing the way we support clients

We at Aurora are already adapting our business to support clients most appropriately as the situation unfolds. For some it will mean strategic guidance from outside their organisation: objective, critical advice to inform decision making. For others, it will mean finding creative ways to convene conferences virtually rather than in person. And for many it will mean issues and crisis handling expertise as the virus hits the delivery of medicines to patients.

At a time when column inches are necessarily dominated by coronavirus news and commentary, there are other ways of reaching and engaging your audiences – targeted social, digital content that is useful, appropriate and timely will always be valuable. And keeping in touch with your customers will be appreciated, albeit virtually.

Robust, seamless home working

We had already shifted our entire business to work remotely before the government’s request to do so, and have tested and deployed business-critical systems for everyone to work effectively with minimal disruption. Team and client meetings are happening via Zoom and Teams. Collaboration tools are allowing us to quickly and efficiently draft and finalise written materials across multiple geographies. And we’re working with long-standing, trusted partners like Contented Brothers and Markettiers to think about how we can virtualise the live events that have traditionally been the foundation of the pharma calendar. Whatever happens we are ready to work intelligently, flexibly and with agility to support in-house teams.

Support for clients

But how we work is really only an enabler for the actual work we do for our clients, supporting their role in helping the most important people in the health system: patients and healthcare professionals. We shouldn’t overlook the importance of providing reassurance, stability and hope for your internal audiences. They, too, will be anxious but they are also the people with the biggest potential to make a positive impact.

In the last fortnight we have been supporting a home healthcare provider to plan and communicate its crisis response to COVID-19 for thousands of patients and staff across the UK. We’ve been helping a large pharma firm reimagine its entire conference agenda for 2020, developing a virtual platform on which to convene its scientific audience. We’ve crafted proactive and reactive statements for media and patient groups with specific health concerns related to COVID-19. And we’ve been consulting with a medtech company to communicate compassionately across multiple geographies so that its patients are supported in the best way possible.

Aurora COVID-19 Task Force

Despite the external threat being consistent, the specific challenges faced by businesses in response are very different. There is no silver bullet, no blanket set of recommendations that can be implemented. Which is why we have established a dedicated Aurora COVID-19 Task Force composed of senior, experienced operators with extensive reputational, scientific, social and digital, media, internal comms, and issues / crisis expertise. We’re offering an expert sounding board for any business – client or not – looking for help navigating the current situation. Get in touch here:

We want to help

We know this is a rapidly evolving situation. The only way society will progress its response is by working more closely together than ever before and the pharmaceutical industry is at the centre of being able to help. We know big decisions are difficult to make with any degree of confidence or certainty. But we’re confident we can help you with whatever you need: please share your problems with us. Get in touch and find out how we can help.

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| Sam B

Glad to see this, Claire. The starting point has to be understanding what clients are wrestling with before making recommendations – there is, as you say, no silver bullet. People or agencies that prescribe an answer without understanding the internal context will definitely be wide of the mark.

| Chris B

One word that isn’t used enough and is as important as it ever has been, is being “considerate”. The world as we know has it changed, perhaps forever, certainly for the next generation and this brings with it a world of opportunity. To learn more and now more than ever, listen more. If we’re considerate we’ll be in a better position to help. If we’re not and we do things the way we always have, we’ll do more harm than good.

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