On so-called ‘Freedom Day’ Jonathan Walker, director of policy at the Chamber looks back at all the range of issues it tackled on behalf of members and sets out what now needs to happen.
Right from the outset of Covid we ensured we were on the front foot with information which was so vital for our members and the business community at large.
The Government’s statements and website information on new restrictions and other measures were often vague and contradictory, as well as changing very rapidly. We produced simple to understand updates for 9am every day to ensure businesses had the exact details of what the new guidelines were and how they should be implemented.
Our communications were also responsive and we had a set of initial updates – broken down by regional geography, with several taking place each day over the course of a week. This was followed by regular weekly question and answer sessions in the following months to try and clarify the many members’ queries and concerns.
The campaign was also two-way, as well as providing information, we also gathered important feedback from businesses at the coalface of the economic crisis.
As well as information gathering, we were proud to be part of a successful campaign with the local authorities to change the Government’s decision to move the region into Tier 3 with rules which meant there couldn’t be childcare bubbles. The change was implemented within days of the letter being sent.
It was obvious from the outset there were huge gaps in Government support for certain types of business e.g. the self-employed. Grants and loans were also proving hard to access for certain businesses, under huge financial duress due to the lockdown.
Working with the British Chambers of Commerce we successfully campaigned to change parameters for support to include businesses that had been unable to get financial help.
Many of our members in the care and health sectors struggled to access PPE at the outset of the pandemic so as part of our communications campaign we ran a successful drive to get businesses to donate any spare equipment and products. The result was a tremendous with members switching production to create hand sanitiser, donating any spare PPE and also using premises to specifically manufacture it.
We produced regularly updates for the media so they could help get the message out about the support available to businesses which were well received.
Our statements and leadership team were frequently used in interviews on national media including BBC Breakfast, Sky News, Radio 4’s Today programme, Times Radio, the World at One and on the front pages of our regional media and in TV/radio news bulletins.
Our members were also able to benefit from opportunities via us to have their views put forward on the media. Examples of this include features in the national press including the Sun Dial pub in South Shields appearing on Sky News, the Independent and in the Daily Mirror.
The Chamber communications campaign also shared lessons from around the world, promoting virtual webinars from Hong Kong, Beijing, Germany and South Korea where that country’s Covid lessons and response to the pandemic were set out by senior leaders.
Our media campaign also promoted the financial help we provided, £150k in total, to our members who were struggling financially.
Throughout the pandemic we were used as an important mouthpiece for the region, gathering communities, businesses and influential figures together, to tackle the many challenges Covid presented. Our communications were critical to the success of this role as it disseminated key messages which were of immediate importance to very many people, in particular when Government communications was unclear.
Facts and Stats
The Chamber’s dedicated Covid update page received 4,000 hits during the first nine-months of the pandemic
There were more than a thousand link clicks to briefing update documents
A programme of 57 knowledge webinars were held in the period Mar 20 – Apr 21, with 1,829 registrations – these included direct updates on the covid situation in the region, changing restrictions and accessing support, as well as broader topics on business adaption to the crisis, including practical sessions on managing a remote team, marketing in difficult times and mental health.
62 knowledge blogs were published in the year from March 2020 to April 2021, with the majority covering topics around business resilience, recovery and adaptation to changes caused by the pandemic.
66 iterations of the update document were issued, including day updates from 16th March 2020 to 22nd May 2020.
Our social media platforms received positive levels of engagement, for example the tweet about our membership support fund received the statistics below
We issued 66 tweets during the pandemic up to June and they generally generated 4,500 impressions, with 100 accounts engaging with us.
What should happen now?
We are urging the Government to make sure the Covid measures are fit for purpose and align with business needs. The current social isolation measures are not appropriate and need to be addressed urgently so businesses being devasted by staff shortages can continue to operate normally.