Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio heeded warning signs and shut down quickly — well before many other states across the country. Surprisingly, the Buckeye State also saw high rates of compliance with the aggressive stay at home orders. But why? The answer is complicated, yet one simple factor played a major role — exceptional communication from state leaders.
Governor Mike DeWine and now former Ohio Department of Health Director, Dr. Amy Acton delivered a master class in communications, and professionals should take notes. Here are three lessons for sharing complex, sensitive information — whether during a global pandemic or when business is booming.
1. Be consistent and approachable.
Known infamously as Wine with DeWine, the governor’s daily press conferences provide Ohioans with much-needed consistency and comfort. And it’s not just the mid-day Pinot Noir. We could count on Governor DeWine, Dr. Acton and Marla Berkowitz to share the latest updates in an easy-to-understand manner.
Complex economic decisions are paired with stories of Ohioans rallying together. Politics aside, Ohioans felt heard, understood and supported by our state government. Despite dissension from a small group who disagreed with the decision to shut down the economy, most Ohioans saw the care and concern for the greater good — as evidenced by the countless Dr. Acton fan clubs, Marla tributes and Wine with DeWine merch.
2. Pick the right spokespeople.
Each press conference is led honestly, sincerely and respectfully. There is a balance of seriousness and playfulness. This all stemmed from the personalities and professionalism of Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton.
Governor DeWine kicks off each presser with his tie-of-the-day. Prior to Dr. Action’s departure from her role as director, she would follow the Governor’s remarks with words of encouragement to flatten the curve and don our masks and capes.
Both treated the media with the utmost respect, creating an interactive way for the voices of Ohioans to be heard through the reporters’ questions.
3. Don’t shy away from data.
Statistics can be intimidating and, when you’re tracking the number of human lives infected by a deadly virus, downright terrifying. However, numbers are a straightforward way to show impact and drive behavioral change.
Whether it was on a poster board or on a digital screen, Dr. Acton skillfully presented the daily number of cases and hospitalizations. She didn’t just say the numbers, she explained what they meant and tied them directly to the actions of our neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances.
COVID-19 has disrupted life as we know it. Social plans, vacations and professional conferences have been canceled. Work, school and healthcare moved to a virtual setting. Yet, early on, Ohioans were committed to flattening the curve because the right people were sharing the appropriate message with the correct tools.
Since Dr. Action’s departure and as Ohio gradually reopens, behaviors are shifting — increasing the chance for a reemergence of social distancing and strict economic guidelines. Governor DeWine, without Dr. Acton by his side, must continue to communicate with candor. The platform still exists for the Governor to motivate behaviors and change perceptions. The big question is...will Ohioans continue to listen?