Communicators who’ve made the Difference during the COVID-19 pandemic
Who do you think has made the biggest Difference through exceptional communications about the COVID-19 pandemic this year? When we asked The Difference Collective’s members this question, it started a fascinating discussion on our virtual office chatboard.
New faces and established public figures have stepped up to try and help their communities and audiences through a year of confusion, anxiety and challenge. Communicating from all kinds of platforms and channels, they’ve shared their views and commentary.
Collectively, it took us some time to arrive at this shortlist, with many strong contenders passionately supported. But we believe these people have, in their diverse ways, made a conspicuously positive Difference through their healthcare and pandemic-related communications in 2020.
There are of course other highly visible public figures who have shaped and delivered critical messages throughout the pandemic – we decided to highlight some less obvious choices in our final selection. Applying our own rule of six, we’ve chosen a high-impact half dozen.
Here’s who they are and why we’re celebrating them as this strange year draws to a close.
Public health: Professor Devi Sridhar
Global Public Health scientists don’t tend to attract a high media profile, except in extraordinary times. Devi Sridhar is a high-flyer in her field who stepped into the limelight in the pandemic with a personal commitment to conveying public health messages directly and clearly.
In the face of challenges and rebuttals from COVID-19 deniers, she has stood her ground and responded with dignity and integrity. What makes her Different? We recognise her efforts to reach a diverse audience through a wide range of channels to communicate core public health messages with empathy and patience.
Broadcast media: Dr Hilary Jones
Good Morning Britain’s TV GP has spent 2020 using his spot on the sofa to demystify and clarify crucial information about the COVID-19 infection. This is the UK’s most watched breakfast show and Dr Hilary has applied his trademark approach of calm and reason to explain difficult concepts in simple terms. He has helped the public understand what was happening at different stages of the pandemic and why different actions have been necessary.
We admire the way he has put science and public health in context for a very wide audience, often counterbalancing and contexualising the rantings of Piers Morgan!
Digital media: Dr Rohin Francis
Rohin Francis is known to many as @medcrisis on social media – a cardiologist who is also an accomplished vlogger, writer, comedian and YouTube creator.
He uses his platform to call out misinformation and give a view of life on the front line of healthcare. He explains scientific detail in a user-friendly way with a healthy dose of humour.
We salute Rohin for his excellent command of digital media, using less traditional channels to reach audiences who curate their own news feeds and put their trust in contemporary, alternative commentators. The approach may be comic and left-field, but Rohin communicates key COVID-19 health information in a meaningful and Different way.
Find Rohin’s social media accounts via his Medlifecrisis website.
Documentary: Dr Chris and Dr Xand van Tulleken
If you spend much time with primary school kids, you may know these twin medics from CBBC’s Operation Ouch! Dr Chris is an infectious diseases doctor at UCLH and Dr Xand is a public health specialist.
Their BBC pandemic documentary took an unexpected turn when post-COVID-19 complications propelled Xand into an ICU bed on Chris’ ward during filming. The finished programme gives a high-impact view of the experience of COVID-19 sufferers and their families as well as a powerful insight into the journey of treatment in hospitals and afterwards as patients recover.
We applaud the van Tullekens for their brilliance in making medicine and science vivid, personal and understandable.
Press: Tom Whipple, The Times Science Editor
For non-scientists, some of the more in-depth mainstream press coverage of COVID-19 has been difficult to absorb. Readers may crave detail, evidence and the latest insights, but when these relate to vaccine development, virology and novel treatments, it’s hard to report precisely and accurately in an accessible way.
Tom Whipple has contributed strongly to unpacking complex COVID-19-related topics. As well as editorial features, his byline appears on many of the explainer panels that go alongside heavyweight medical and scientific articles. We appreciate the way he humanises technical information: his engaging and clear reporting of challenging health and medical topics stands out because it simplifies without dumbing down or being patronising.
Photography: Julia Fullerton-Batten, photographer
Julia has an established reputation in the creative and commercial sector for her arresting images, which frequently tackle social issues. Confined close to home during lockdown, Julia’s Looking out from within 2020 project has produced some of the year’s defining images. Photographing householders within five minutes of her home, Julia’s pictures document the domestic impact of COVID-19. They’re accompanied by poignant comments from her locked-down London subjects about what they most miss.
We’re mesmerised by Julia’s eloquent images, which won a Lensculture award and have featured in BBC publications, The Guardian, Metro and New Statesmen. Her own communication around the project was simple but very effective: using social media and her local press she generated a huge response.
Follow @julia_fullertonbatten on Instagram #socialdistancing #stayhome #lockdown #stayhomeheroes.
We send our Collective congratulations to these exceptional communicators. We’re full of appreciation for everyone who has stepped up to inform, explain, reassure, comfort and inspire audiences in big or small ways, through clear and effective pandemic communications across any and every channel.
Though it’s hard to predict anything for next year, we’re certain that strong communication will remain central to the effectiveness of organisations in both the public and private healthcare sectors. We’re looking forward to 2021 with a degree of optimism and hope that we’ll be working to help even more healthcare clients tell their stories to convey vital patient messages.
About the Author
Angie Wiles, Founder of The Difference Collective, has worked in healthcare communications for over 30 years, ultimately building one of the most successful UK healthcare consultancies. Throughout her career, she has constantly looked to do things differently and make a difference to the healthcare communications industy.