Super Saturday- a winning model of decentralised communications

Maori and Pasifika have been left behind in the covid 19 vaccine rollout. 

I'll leave the long-running, structural reasons for that for another time but what it comes down to is a lack of trust in the authorities and media. Trust can't be rebuilt in the next two months so what to do to get the vaccine numbers up?

The pivot on Super Saturday to a grass roots, decentralised communications approach where local providers spoke directly to their target audiences worked. The numbers proved it with over 130 000 vaccinations and targets exceeded for Maori and Pasifika jabs. 

The televised Vaxathon was a hit with young, fresh faces I've never really seen (showing my age) taking control of the messaging to get out and get vaccinated. Troops on the ground were equipped with fun event ingredients, spot prizes and thank you packs to get the tail end through. So the question is why wasn't this done earlier and has the current approach been all wrong? Should we just decentralise all the communications now?

"This is your captain speaking"

The message control coming out of the government has been necessarily tight and in an emergency situation like the one in March 2020 the team got it right. The 1pm public address format with media present ensured that the Team of Five Million were all on the same page and the clear, sharp (some say kindergarten) explanations navigated the country through a challenging time. 

"This your captain speaking" and fire it out as a press release has worked for certain audiences and built a good foundation to decentralise things out to grass roots channels. For example, on Super Saturday crowds of all ages were delighted by a dancing Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He was a total unknown 18 months ago. How did he get covid comms famous and become a trusted source? The joking around of Vaxathon youth presented with 'Optimus Prime' (PM Jacinda Ardern) was adorable and powerful all at the same time. 

Public health in New Zealand is notoriously bad at paid media advertising as a result of them having no budget and third party agency power. Public health have become over reliant on the traditional media to get their messaging out and the paid work often comes as an after thought. Here comes the issue for Maori and Pasifika communities-they're often not engaged in mainstream media channels and go to other sources such as social or word of mouth, relational channels. The fragmented media is harder and more expensive. You need complicated media planning, multiple languages and broad range of media-trained talking heads. It's harder and you risk losing control of your messages-especially if you are trying to pull all the levers from Wellington. 

Many of the ground troops involved in Super Saturday had already been partially media trained by the 1pm announcements -whether they knew it or not. But the time has come to add more grass roots campaigns as well as the centralised messages. Equip the people on the ground and if that means Super Saturday 2, I'm here for it. 

Why Labour can't win on the 1pm updates (so they must continue)

60 new cases in New Zealand today. 

It's not great news but the National Party seems to be most concerned with the lack of a 1pm stand up press conference. Which seems quite contradictory to the position of the last few weeks where the government was criticised for grand standing in the new prime time news slot. Talkback was calling for the 1pm updates to stop, the Greens wanted new, diverse, voices to be added and, "anyone but Aunty Cindy" became a Facebook catch cry. 

Spin. 

The negative term ascribed to communications that someone doesn't agree with. 

The current government has been accused of lacking transparency. So Labour increased communications resources. Then, the government is accused of spin and onboarding Spin Doctors. Newstalk ZB even went so far as to point the finger at Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director General of Health, for "spinning for the government".  

So what's the answer?  As a former public health communications manager myself (see also Spin Doctor) I can tell you there isn't one. 

But here's a few things to note. First, the 1pm update is not a press conference. It's a live, public address to the nation with critical public health and other information that the Team of 5 Million need to hear. There are media in attendance to amplify the messages through mainstream media. The question time is token and laughable, don't pay it too much attention. Second, like it or not, Jacinda Ardern is our current national leader and it's her job to communicate to the people of New Zealand. Yes she has a communications degree (we both went to Waikato) and that has equipped her for the very complex task of turning up, and getting across messages that keep the nation cohesive. It's a very difficult thing to achieve at scale and of course she needs a team of paid advisors. To think that our leader would simply 'wing it' without messaging is simple minded. Third, there will always be tension between official channels and the varying opinions on both mainstream and social media. The 1pm creates an official information source and a relatively safe environment for critical public health messaging. 

The Labour Party is beginning to get spooked by the blow back to 1pm and they need to push on and continue with regular public addresses. It's not spin, it's good communications and yes I agree with National, there should have been one today.