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Portugal bets on communication to beat the pandemic

By Sandro Rego

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in videoconference (Credits: Miguel Figueiredo Lopes)

The global crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic is doing great damage to the economy of European countries and, consequently, in the life of the entire population.

Since Europe became the epicenter of the pandemic, we witnessed closed borders, canceled flights, states of emergency in several countries, thousands of infected citizens, quarantines and lockdowns, demonstrations of solidarity and, unfortunately, deaths.

In this context of crisis, one of the most important weapons to overcome the war against this silent and invisible enemy is communication. It must be responsible, clear, engaging, enlightening, emotional and true.

The Portuguese have been an example when it comes to raising awareness about the risks of this pandemic. Government bodies, large communication groups, humanitarian entities, companies, celebrities and ordinary citizens are doing their share and committed to trying to minimize the negative impacts and damages. Fake news, which also aggravate the situation, has been combated with incessant clarifications in all media. Television shows – such as Polígrafo, by SIC, which entered into a partnership with the General Directorate of Health to clarify the facts – and a flood of information released by the government is replicated by the media using TV channels, newspapers, radio, internet, messaging apps, SMS, etc. Anything goes in the process of precise information.

As in Spain, Germany, France and Italy – the country that suffers most from coronavirus -, Portugal decreed a State of Emergency on March 18. But well before that, the government has been running a veritable information marathon. The Portuguese Minister of Health has given daily long press conferences to talk about the status of the situation in the country. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 71, is part of the vulnerable group and is on preventive isolation but keeps talking to the nation through videoconference. Nobody is standing still.

Communication groups united

Large communication groups have also joined forces. TV channels RTP, SIC and TVI have abolished studio audiences in their programs. News broadcast uses 80% of airing time addressing the pandemic in the country and in the world. Special shows with debates, sessions to answer questions and tips on what to do during lockdown are also being aired.

Newspapers removed their paywalls from the articles that address Covid-19, expanding the scope to non-subscribers. Time Out, a publication specialized in events, gastronomy, and culture tips, was bold and temporarily changed its name to Time In. The magazine lists the events canceled in Lisbon and Porto, in addition to activity tips for quarantine times at home, such as films, series, books etc. It suspended the print edition and is only available online.

Companies mobilize

While companies estimate the losses resulting from this situation, they take business decisions to minimize the impact and adopt communication measures.  They are creating crisis offices, clarifying employees on prevention, encouraging work from home, and aligning strategies with clients and suppliers about their moves.

After all, work cannot stop, given that the government has not determined isolation and mandatory quarantine for the population. Companies committed to changes in society go further: they support humanitarian initiatives, initiate awareness campaigns and take solidarity measures to support its customers and society in such a difficult time. LVMH, the French luxury goods group which owns brands like Dior, Guerlain, and Givenchy, informed that it will start produce hand sanitizers in their factories that currently produce perfumes and cosmetics. Everything will be donated to French hospitals to fight coronavirus in the country. The three Portuguese telecommunications operators – MEO, NOS and Vodafone – offer, for a period of one month, 10GB of data to customers and are no longer charging some paid TV channels. Porto Editora decided to open a remote school for all students, and Leya platform also provides a virtual school and its collection for free consultation. Tech giant Cisco is not charging for access to remote work solutions.  Nespresso sent a message warning its customers about stores closing and stressed that employees will continue to receive salaries. Millennium Bank/BCP also advised customers to give preference to the online resources.

The cancellation of events due to the pandemic will be responsible for losses estimated at 250 million euros. It’s a huge impact on the country that has become a mecca for summer festivals and business tourism. The estimate is from Apecate (Portuguese Association of Companies of Congresses, Tourist Entertainment and Events). The entity says that virtually all events scheduled for the coming months in Portugal have been canceled. NOS Cinemas chain opted for close its 219 rooms.

APCE (Portuguese Association for Corporate Communication) is also working remotely. Since it is promoting the 2020 edition of the Grand Award of the entity, the team is using an “Open-Day phone call” to provide clarification to all entities that are currently preparing their applications.

The award ceremony of APCE’s Grand Award is scheduled for May 7, but it may be postponed according to the evolution of the pandemic. The Trends Forum planned for April and the Global Alliance General Assembly in Lisbon have already been canceled, as well as all face-to-face meetings for regular monitoring of associated companies.

We know that the situation is not easy, and everyone lives busy days. Even with some positive signs that seem to be starting to come from China, Europe and the rest of the world, the damage done to the Covid-19 will take a long time to pass.

The will, strength, and focus to find solutions that minimize the impact of this pandemic cannot stop. In this challenge, responsible communication is a fundamental weapon.

Take care, everyone.

Sandro Rego is CEO of Priori, a communications agency in Portugal dedicated to social impact causes and projects. He was general manager of FleishmanHillard agency and communications executive at Banco Safra, Boticário Group, Bunge, and Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (CSN). He was “Communicator of the Year” at the Aberje 2014 Award. He currently lives in Portugal and is the editor of BRpr’s “Also in Portuguese” section.