Agility trumps preparation during a crisis

Communications plans at one of Sydney's largest hospitals had to be thrown out the window in favour of being agile and rolling with the punches, once COVID-19 hit Sydney. Listen to the full interview.

David Faktor, Director of Media and Communications for St. Vincent’s Health Australia, says the success story for his department wasn’t about the preparation they had done, but their agility in reacting to the ever-changing situation.

]“We’ve had a fair few disasters where we’ve implemented disaster response protocols, but for all of that, the truth is it is [COVID-19], and was always, very fluid.

“My biggest learning out of all of this is about agility. I don’t believe you could fully prepare on the communications front for any episode like this," David said. 

The vital importance of communications and public relations during a crisis has come to the forefront in COVID-19, with many of the crucial elements of the containment and treatment plan hinging on effective communications.

“Communications has played an absolutely vital role in the social distancing, in the screening that is taking place, and ensuring that the right people with symptoms are coming forward to get tested. It all comes down to messaging. The pandemic has highlighted to me the importance of messaging in the time of a disaster, and for that matter, the absolute pivotal importance of message consistency.

“We saw the direct correlation between us doing a TODAY show interview first thing in the morning, putting our Head of Infectious diseases up to talk about the importance of screening, and encouraging people to come forward to be screened, and then that day looking at the record numbers of people who came forward,” David said.

Even though the pandemic has only been going for two months in Australia, David already has established key learnings.
  • Not committing to key numbers, such as how many ventilators were available in the hospital, was an immediate lesson. Keep the focus broad to avoid panic and people playing the projections game.
  • Don't over commit to a single strategy in the face of a fast-moving scenario.

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