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Blog post
May 19, 2020

Isentia Conversations with Campbell Fuller from Insurance Council of Australia

We talked to Campbell Fuller, the Head of Communications and Media Relations at Insurance Council of Australia about his experience working through Australia’s natural disasters.He shared his advice for communicating when circumstances are outside your control. Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shared some of the trends across social and traditional media as we move towards the recovery phase.

 

Isentia’s Ngaire Crawford talks about the recovery phase

4:15 – The narrative is shifting from an initial crisis comms response to a different media tone as we move into a recovery phase. Across Australia and New Zealand, the mainstream media is talking about:

  1. Easing of restrictions
  2. Practicality of restrictions
  3. Longer term economic impact

4:34 – On social media, people are excited about the return of social interactions but they are also anxious and confused about the changes in restrictions and how they can be enforced. 

5:05 – Google trends shows people across Australia are searching about the Coronavirus App; how it works and its security. And across Australia and New Zealand people are searching for information about the easing of restrictions.

6:04 – The next stage of COVID-19 communications can be categorised in three themes:

  • Clarity – this will continue to be extremely important in the coming weeks as restrictions change
  • Compassion – understand what is resonating with your audience to effectively communicate with them.
  • Creativity – A lot of organisations are delivering information in ways they weren’t expecting, or connecting with customers in a new way. Knowing your audience and your communication style is important when being creative. 

6:47 – The media is starting to dissect the event, how did it start? Were we too slow? And people are trying to apportion blame so that someone can take responsibility. There’s a thirst for an apology.

With so many new rules and restrictions in place, be as clear and specific as you can. Move quickly when there’s a mistake, acknowledge what you don’t know.

Campbell Fuller talks communications during crisis

8:12-  The Insurance Council has been flat out since September 2019 with very little respite. They’ve gone from the worst natural disasters season in Australia’s history into a pandemic. They’ve also been dealing with a number of government enquiries, as well as Parliamentary Inquiries, and growing expectations from regulators and various community groups. 

9:08 – New Zealand is fortunate with communicating throughout this pandemic. Their central government provides a very clear message with a single trusted voice. This pandemic will steer communications to be more direct and unified.

Q&A

10:17 – Comms Professionals are under so much pressure at the moment. How do you retain flexibility when it’s so outside of your control? 

10:41 – Campbell Fuller:

We haven’t had a pandemic in the past 15 years but we’ve had numerous issues and crises.  As an industry group, we have a very strong relationship with our member companies, with regulators, with politicians and with consumer groups. Even though the circumstances aren’t always familiar, the approaches we apply to them are well established and deliver the best outcomes. It comes down to having the resources you need, having the empowerment of the decision makers to take certain steps and to continually stress test your actions and your messages each day.

11:48 – Although we didn’t predict a pandemic, we can predict there will be external stressors and as an industry, we need to respond appropriately.

It’s important to know your product well enough to design or modify your messaging so that it becomes fit for purpose.

12:26 – Wherever possible, have a single trusted voice. Make sure you are in constant connection with your most important groups, i.e your internal audience. Manage their expectations from the start and let them know they are important.

13:16 – For the external stakeholders of the Insurance Council, whether it’s talking to the media, to governments or regulators, it’s critical to get our messaging and our approach right.  We also need to actively listen and monitor what others are saying, this includes listening to what is being said through our government, regulatory and consumer liaison channels.

14:33 – How do you manage consistency and continuity of comms, when overarching strategy is so unknown?

15:05 – Campbell Fuller:

Most of us would have some form of crisis strategy in place including how to identify issues, collate them, how to best respond to those issues, whilst also managing expectations. 

16:01 – Look at the issues you have and prepare for the worst, middle and best case scenarios and include the steps needed to achieve those outcomes.  

16:30 – No crisis management plan is 100% perfect, and the unknown always leaves the option to fine tune your plan. Where possible, always try and stay one step ahead of the issue.

16:50 – At the Insurance Council, we are in constant contact with our internal and external audiences. We look at the issues and concerns they’re experiencing and hear their thoughts about the direction they think the industry should be going. From this, we work out how it fits into our current policies and if it aligns with our approach. 

We are constantly stress testing every single thing we do which enables us to identify emerging issues or predict things to come.

18:39 – By early March it was quite clear we needed to take more direct action in regards to COVID-19. We were one of the first industries to put a line through our events including our major industry summit due to take place at the end of March. We cancelled face to face member meetings, moved them online and took proactive steps to demonstrate to our member companies we were concerned about the impact of COVID-19. 

20:53 – Are the themes; clarity, compassion and creativity here to stay? Do you think we are starting to see a media landscape shift and we won’t necessarily go back to business as usual?

21:04 – Ngaire Crawford:

Creativity during COVID-19 is particularly unique as it’s incredibly rare for a crisis to hit such a  wide audience with everyone experiencing the same issue at the same time. It does, however, enable comms professionals to deliver messaging in a different way. Organisations have had to pivot around things that previously weren’t thought to be an issue and the receptiveness to this new found creativity will have longevity. 

22:09 – Clarity is foundational in any crisis and is the result of people doing well during this time. Messaging needs to be clear and consistent from the very beginning. 

26:25 – What link have you seen between communicating during bushfire season and communicating during a pandemic?

27:37 – Campbell Fuller:

It’s important to have a single credible voice, monitor the conversation and know when and how to correct something.

27:54 – The first principle of communications is to understand who is speaking (if you aren’t), and look at what they are saying. Determine whether their messaging is what you would be saying. It’s not a time to say something for the sake of it. Who is the most appropriate person to respond?

28:27- There’s a lot of misinformation with insurance providers, especially during natural disasters, and it’s our job to correct it. We steer the affected communities to the right information so they can take the right actions themselves towards recovery.

32:38 COVID-19 has been used to blame many delays and other problems. At what point do communicators need to stop using COVID-19 as a catch all excuse? 

33:03 – Campbell Fuller: 

There is a risk people will get tired of using COVID-19 as an excuse. We need to shift our messaging from blaming to recovery led messaging. Everyone understands there are roadblocks at the moment, let’s focus on what we can do and how we can shape our responses to have a positive outlook. 

If you would like to view other Webinar Isentia Conversations: Communicating through Change:

Isentia Conversations: with Katherine Newton at RU OK?

Isentia Conversations: with Bec Brown at The Comms Department

Isentia Conversations: with Rochelle Courtenay at Share the Dignity

Isentia Conversations: with Rachel Clements at Centre for Corporate Health

Isentia Conversations: with Helen McMurdo at MTV

Isentia Conversations: with Daniel Flynn at Thank You

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