Blog post
June 3, 2020

Isentia conversations with Craig Dowling from Mercury

We talk to Craig Dowling, the Head of Communications at Mercury. Mercury was underway with some major construction and refurbishment projects; it had launched a new brand campaign; it was preparing to welcome a new Chief Executive – and then came the unforeseen. Craig reflects on how COVID-19 flipped the focus of communications almost overnight. He’ll share what went well and what the challenges were in such a dynamic environment. Isentia’s Insights Director, Ngaire Crawford also shares some of the trends we’re seeing across social and traditional media, and a quick look at what communication is working well right now.


Ngaire Crawford talks about predicting the future

4:06 – The current overarching media narrative is about predicting what the future will look like and the long term personal impact COVID-19 will have on us.

The mainstream media is talking about:

  1. Economic impact and how long the recovery will be (property, wealth and government response)
  2. Restrictions easing and cases of the virus in specific regions or specific person
  3. News is starting to resemble normal again.

5:43 – As anxiety about physical distancing eases, discussions on social media are turning towards the government response to the economic downturn and how businesses will course correct the job losses that have taken place.

6:23 –  What people are looking for on Google across Australia and New Zealand:

  • Individual COVID-19 cases based on a particular region, age etc.
  • Coronavirus App across both regions
  • Broader global and entertainment stories (Lady Gaga, Josh Reynolds etc.) This is reflective of the world slowly returning to normal.

7:00 – Now is the time to start thinking about the future and how to apply the learnings seen through COVID-19 in your future communications.

It’s important to understand how to communicate during an economic downturn; know your audience, be creative and innovative with how you demonstrate your message to your audience.

8:00 – There are interesting conversations around PR ethics and misinformation and the role they play. In particular, the Whitehouse challenged social media companies and their legal responsibility for content posted on their platforms. It also reignites the conversation/debate around the role of tech and their ethical responsibility. Anything to do with ethics and misinformation is important for communications professionals to know and understand during this time.

Craig Dowling from Mercury talks disrupted and disrupting conversations

9:49 – There’s a lot of value revisiting some of the lessons we’ve learned during COVID-19 to help us build new habits and progress forward.

9:55 – Sticking to the communication messages; clarity, compassion and creativity will hold us true to the course of recovery. This includes the ups and downs still to come throughout COVID-19.

10:10 – The 2010 New Zealand Canterbury earthquake is the biggest parallel to COVID-19. This earthquake was a long running issue for those directly impacted and the grief cycle involved a cycle of responses to our customers, partners and internal staff that lasted years. This could be similar with COVID-19.

11:05 – We had a range of things planned for the first half of 2020. We had our strategies, tactics and specific activities the business had decided to do. We were working on a brand campaign, planning price changes, and a major infrastructure investment of building New Zealand’s largest wind farm.

11:53 – We strategically launched our brand campaign on Valentines Day. As a renewable energy company, our pointy messaging was telling people to break up with oil and kiss it goodbye. We had a lot of supporting work scheduled for release but it was apparent 2 weeks after launch, people weren’t listening to the renewable energy message (which usually has a fertile audience) so we decided to pull the campaign.

12:56 – The timing of our brand campaign coinciding with COVID-19 meant we had to segway to old neutral advertising to keep our brand presence and most importantly, not offend anyone. Neutral advertising also bought us time to determine what our longer term response would be.

13:25 –  We had announced a price increase to our customers in early February giving them one months notice before it was implemented. A number of those customers did not face their price increase until New Zealand were a week into lockdown. This presented us with reactive messaging – we had to let our customers know the background of the price increase and validate its existence. This was tricky to navigate but we needed to think like a customer in this scenario and understand their pain points.

14:30 –  The lockdown meant we had issues getting workers to our wind farm that was under construction. We had locked in community engagements; we spoke to our community once a month with face to face meetings and we had to think of new ways to best manage those tactics and situations.

14:54 – It’s fundamentally important to build relationships and trust for messaging to be well received.

16:20 – In terms of our own communications plans, in a neutral environment away from issues such as COVID-19 and other crises, you have the luxury of thinking and speaking in areas you may not otherwise.

Test the waters of communicating and take it back to the core elements of your business. Say less and find out what is important to say, and then test it. 

17:40 – It’s important to understand the tone of your message and how it is going to be received without making any assumptions.

19:42 – There’s been a lot of talk about businesses pivoting and whole business models being threatened. From a comms perspective, caution should be taken with a pause implemented between pivots. Test the business is pivoting for the right reasons, and understand what the underlying values are supposed to be. The change pivoting brings won’t be sustainable unless it’s true to your business’ core values.

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

Isentia Conversations: with Campbell Fuller at Insurance Council of Australia


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