Pica pica

09 March 2020 : Pica #068

The Red Zone.

Social emergencies require smart comms.

We need information to understand events but also narratives to make sense of them. The dire cacophony generated by the current epidemic highlights a collective disorientation.

This Pica comes to you from the Lombardy Red Zone. It seems perversely fitting that in an age obsessed with digital disruption we are being thoroughly disrupted by something as primitive as a virus.
This pandemic is the first of the social media age and it is exposing the chronic inadequacy of Italian institutions at communicating. I’m not disputing any decisions made, I am questioning the way the decisions have been presented to the public. I am disputing the opaque explanations of the government’s actions, emergency planning and policy.
Geo-targeting, just-in-time context-related messaging, interactive data visualisation and other marketers tools could, should, must be put to work in situations like this. Maybe scenario probability mapping is asking too much, but then again if McKinsey can do it I think a government should also provide this kind of information to businesses to help them form contingency plans.
Official declarations written in “bureaucratese” leave an information vacuum that is filled by individual interpretations that are shared, shared and shared like the virus itself. In the middle are commercial news outlets that emphasize the drama of the emergency simply because it translates into audience (aka revenue). The unforgivable thing is that politicians have become adept at using all kinds of communication techniques to get themselves elected and stay in power but they don’t apply the same skills for the institutions they run.

Momentous events bring out the best and worst in people and the best and worst in communities. A key differentiator between the best and the worst is leadership and trust in leadership. The OECD “Government at a glance” data on confidence in national governments shows Italy at 31% compared with the UK at 42%, Germany at 60% and Switzerland at 75%.
The following words are taken from a note titled, “Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020” from Sequoia Capital published on March 5th, “False optimism can easily lead you astray and prevent you from making contingency plans or taking bold action. Avoid this trap by being clinically realistic and acting decisively as circumstances change. Demonstrate the leadership your team needs during this stressful time.”
Demonstrate is the operative of word in that last sentence. I am convinced that some of the percentage points by which Italy trails other countries are attributable to poor communication. I’ve lived here long enough to know that the reality is nearly always better than the perception. Italy (like any society) needs positive examples, stories to make people proud and confident. The history of this and other disasters define reputations. Italy deserves a better reputation. Modern Italy needs better communication and better narratives.

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