Information crisis management is a compulsory subject with a wealth of literature and many case studies. One of the golden rules of crisis communication is that it must contribute to success and not put sticks in the wheel, not become an additional problem. Like the good referee in a disputed game: go unnoticed, do not become news, that is to say, a problem.
The case of the coronavirus pandemic will be paradigmatic as a case study in business and political schools. Cases compared according to countries, which apply different strategies and we will be able to compare in due course.
The Spanish government has applied a visible and persevering communication strategy for this crisis. I call it a “flood information” strategy. It has occupied all the informative spaces possible, especially the television which is where these games are played. Not only the news but also the other spaces and at all times. An easy objective to achieve since there is no other issue of concern for the citizens than the epidemic, a citizenry confined to their homes and doomed to consume more television than ever. Although it is a risky strategy in the medium term, if only because of the old principle that all excess damages; and excess information can lead to failure.
In order to flood with information, it is necessary to have information material and protagonists and interlocutors. The government has both, so they have occupied all hours, with predictable and repeated messages and formats. Never before have so many ministers given explanations at all hours with a prepared story that revolves around the axis “how well we do it… we are the wonder of the world. It’s serious but we’re fixing it”. The peak and the curve have fascinated the confined audience.
The supporters are calm, the government is showing its face. Opponents are always against it. It’s all about taking up space and storytelling and leaving the adversaries in the corner of the protester who doesn’t help. They have succeeded.
Another question is that sooner or later the mistakes made will have to be explained. How will they explain that the Spanish are the most affected and harmed in the world by this epidemic? The arrogance of the story can take its toll in the form of dented credibility. But there is time to remedy this bias.
Another issue is the rhetoric used, especially by the President of the Government with long, leaden, baroque, repetitive speeches and with poses of false humility that are usually indicative of arrogance. These days, Felipe González proposed a model of communication that is “austere, brief, direct and empathetic with the state of mind of the citizens”. It is evident that from Felipe to Pedro Sánchez there is a universe of differences in almost everything. Sanchez’s rhetoric is neither brief, nor austere, nor direct, nor empathic. His strengths are different, they have to do with resistance and personal determination.
The scheme drawn up by Sánchez ranges from the fatality of the virus to the guilt of a selfish Europe that does not help (a dangerous scheme), to the exceptionality of his government’s political response. This is the framework that resists badly the critical analysis that could emerge from the Parliament or from journalists, but neither one nor the other have opportunities to exercise their political function.
A flood of information suffocates any criticism. Although there is not much room for criticism, in the face of a health emergency that causes the entire population to be confined, the priority is only to care for the sick and prevent the spread of disease.
Fernando González Urbaneja