Alice Sachrajda

Covid-19 – an unfolding story that hasn’t been written yet. How can we shape the narrative?

How do you feel right now? Upbeat, hopeful, motivated? I dearly hope so, but I’m willing to bet over the past few weeks you’ve experienced a flood of emotions that have made you feel anxious, upset, stretched and downright overwhelmed. Covid-19 is global and yet it’s local. It’s microscopic and yet having maximum macro-impact. We’re immobilised and yet frantically working. It’s confusing and unsettling to say the least.

But, and here’s the hopeful bit, it also presents an unprecedented opportunity to catalyse on this moment of connection, and we must not let it slip through our fingers. The way we respond strategically, now and in the coming months, will shape how others refer to the story of this time, and how we relate to one another in the future.

We’ve seen messages of kindness and gratitude fill our social media feeds. The volunteers flooding to support the NHS are now dubbed the ‘Kindness Army’ by the press. Politicians have urged us to come together, be kind to one another and recognise our shared humanity. There is a real likelihood that this experience will bring our communities together in newfound ways, and we will be stronger, more compassionate and more connected as a result. 

There are some excellent resources and materials that have come out about communicating Covid-19 strategically – I’ve included some of them below. They should be our guides at this time. They are crucial to help shape what to say, and what not to say. Unity in messaging is paramount at this time. In addition to digesting these and thinking about the way we frame and consider the words and phrases we use, we also need to consider how our communication makes ourselves and others feel. 

Spokespeople keep repeating that this is a marathon not a sprint, and they’re right. But perhaps an alternative analogy is that this is going to be rather like a long, drawn out novel – a lengthy tome that is going to take some time to get through, rather than a concise short story. And, just as every story has a beginning, middle and an end, so does the pandemic. But the difference is, this is a story that hasn’t been written yet. It’s an open book and we all have a role to play in shaping the story that unfolds.

So, viewed like this, we can start to see a story arc emerge:

The beginning:

 

The middle:

 

The end:

 

Read the messaging guides and resources below – use them to shape your messaging. But also bear in mind the role of each and every one of us in shaping the story that unfolds. We rarely remember the exact words in any given story, but an influential one will resonate with us long after the words have faded from our memory. This is nearly always because of the way the narratives and the characters made us feel at the time. Right now we can evoke the feeling of this story, and it’s within our power to influence how it ends.

Essential framing resources and reading on Covid-19: 

  On Road Media improves media coverage and public understanding of misrepresented groups. They will be supporting people to own and share their stories authentically at this time.

  NEON is an influential network of civil society groups and coordinates and trains spokespeople – they are supporting activists to frame and talk about Covid-19

  PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre) is producing evolving messaging guidance.

  Frameworks Initiative are putting out focused guidance on framing and messaging at this time, including how to communicate a common good frame and making a powerful case for the role of government. More to come – sign up to receive updates.

–  Joseph Rowntree Foundation remind us that we live in a just and compassionate society. This update sets out clears asks to unlock people from poverty at this time.

British Future has written about about how Covid-19 is prompting new ways to reach out to isolated people.

  Hope Based Comms is a global agency advising on how to shift messaging from fear to hope.

  Uplift Ireland has produced materials on: How to talk about Covid-19

  Centre for Countering Digital Hate is about to launch their Don’t feed the virus campaign. Their work is drowning out the xenophobic, hateful messaging that risks being amplified at this time.

  Anat Shenker Osorio Communications has put out this Covid-19 messaging document which is powerfully shaping comms in the USA and beyond.

  Opportunity Agenda is stepping up its allyship with communities of colour and advocates for language centred around inclusion, justice and empowerment.

  Welcoming America are urging positive, values-based messages to maintain cohesion and cooperation and to double-down on virtual interaction and solidarity.

  The University of Sydney’s Policy Lab has put out a concise summary of key policy asks at this time covering: fair access to healthcare; shared economic sacrifice; enhancing social relationships; protecting democracy, rights and liberties; and building a sustainable future.

  Brigitte Nerlich writing for The University of Nottingham has collated a comprehensive summary of key metaphors in the time of coronavirus.