30 September 2020
Caroline Walker, Director of PR & Content

Why isn’t the government using words AND pictures?

Why isn’t the government using words AND pictures?

The rule of six was designed to make things clearer. Previous government guidance on how the public was to socialise in a Covid-world proved too nuanced and complex leading to mass confusion and spikes in infection. However, the government still can’t seem to communicate its message clearly and has left everyone, including the Prime Minister, baffled by the latest guidelines. 

In areas with tighter localised restrictions, such as the North-East, it seems that the government can’t make head nor tail of its own rules. Minister Gillian Keegan admitted in media interviews that she didn’t understand exactly whether mixed households could meet in pub gardens. The Prime Minister came a-cropper, stumbling over his own explanation of what the rule of six means in these areas. So how has the message become so jumbled?

Roughly speaking, the more important the information and the bigger the crowd that needs to understand it, the simpler the message must be. While, we appreciate that it isn’t always easy to condense virology into layman’s terms, muddy messages from the government could be to blame for rising COVID-19 cases.  

  • Stay at home – no ambiguity and generally speaking, good levels of public co-operation. 

  • Stay alert – open to interpretation over what is and isn’t allowed and, as a result, the public took the guidelines into their own hands. 

  • Rule of six – pretty clear by itself but when combined with additional measures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and restricted regions in England it becomes more nuanced and greyer (pub garden-sized) areas emerge. 

One of the questions that constantly arises when we discuss new guidance is: “why are they not using infographics?!” 

Throughout the Covid crisis, the government’s communications teams has used icons sparingly when attempting to explain rules and guidelines. Yet, sometimes a visual representation is all it takes to crystallise a concept, furthermore, you need to show an image repeatedly in the right places to cement it into your audiences’ brains – not hidden away on a public sector website. This is particularly important for audiences who have accessibility challenges or where English is not their first language; a picture can also help to overcome communication barriers. 

Developing effective images and messages is by no means straightforward and can take a lot of time, creativity and logic to conceive. It also involves a team of talented professionals from different disciplines to check that it will resonate with everybody it needs to and will not become distorted. However, get it right and the results can last for generations – we have all encountered certain brand logos and images that will be etched in our minds for the rest of our lives!

To discuss communications and messaging, contact Caroline Walker on 01732 779 087.


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