My pandemic crisis comms predictions – Was I right?

So, how accurate were my predictions?
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By Dustin Eno

A year ago, as I, along with much of the world, transitioned to working from home I spoke on several webinars about how the pandemic would impact maritime crisis communications, social media use and the media in general.

While I always tell people in media training “don’t make predictions, talk only about what you know” I broke my own rule and made several predictions about how crisis communications would be impacted by the pandemic.

So, how accurate were my predictions?

PREDICTION: Normal incidents will get less attention because the world is distracted by the one global story.

Accurate? Yes (unless Covid-19 was involved).

Maritime incidents often manage to go largely unnoticed by the media (for better and for worse) and this has been especially true over the last 12 months. Navigate Response has responded to more incidents in the last 12 months than ever before, but the number that we’ve classified as “significant” (attracting more than 100 news mentions) has been unusually low. Some maritime stories certainly attracted huge attention (see next point), but many cases went under or unreported.

The exception to the pattern of maritime cases going unreported were cases involving Covid-19. Even false-positive test results were sometimes enough to generate significant media attention. In 2021 media interest in positive Covid-19 test results has diminished significantly from initial highs.

PREDICTION: Covid coverage fatigue will lead to major maritime incidents with good pictures getting even more attention than they normally would.

Accurate? Yes.

It is always difficult to know exactly how much attention an incident would have received under different circumstances, but the massive media interest in certain cases over the last 12 months stands out. The cases that attracted the most attention were ones with strong visuals (something stories about Covid-19 generally lack).

The Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius received wide attention. Due to the pictures of oil leaking into turquoise tropical waters I have no doubt that this incident would have been a global story without the pandemic, but the sudden swing from no coverage to global interest when the pictures got interesting combined with the way the story was presented as a page two picture piece suggest to me that coverage was partly driven by journalists and editors who knew their audiences wanted something other than wall to wall Covid.

More recently, the truly unprecedented interest in the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal with much of the coverage lead by photos of the tiny “man with digger” working to free the massive vessel tapped into people’s collective feeling of  helplessness in the face of the pandemic. Certainly, this incident would have been a major news story in any time, but the level of interest was enhanced because it was a story about something that was NOT the pandemic, but that connected to global trade stories associated with the pandemic – and it had great visuals.

PREDICTION: The role of social media as a source of news will be significantly increased.

Accurate? No

Early in the pandemic there was certainly an uptick in news consumption across all platforms, but it looks like that spike wasn’t sustained. There has been an upward trend in social media news consumption for the last decade, but it does not appear that the pandemic accelerated it as much as I expected.

PREDICTION: The accuracy of reporting will decrease as journalists have more news to cover and budgets are stretched thinner than ever.

Accurate? No, at least not obviously

I do not have quantifiable data one way or the other on this point, but my subjective impression is that the quality of journalism largely remained high even under extraordinarily challenging circumstances. Press offices, and much more importantly journalist, adapted to a new way of working remarkably quickly and while Covid-19 related news certainly claimed a huge percentage of the available reporting resources, editors continued to make sure that there was rigorous and quality reporting on other stories. Journalists deserve a huge amount of credit for their hard work keeping the world informed.

PREDICTION: Employee isolation and home working will make leaks and inappropriate posts on social media more common.

Accurate: Yes

Much of the workplace banter that would normally happen verbally has moved to online text chat streams where a record of the conversation is permanent and can be easily copied and shared. These records of casual conversation have created some problems for both employees and their employers. What people write is judged to a higher standard than what people say in private, but it’s easy to forget such when DMing.

While usually not recorded, the many video calls that have become a part of many of our daily routines have opened an audio and visual door into previously private spaces. Confidential information (and embarrassing moments) have been revealed to unintended audiences.

Tallying it up, I scored three out of five, not bad, but not great.

My 2020 predictions were short term – what would happen in the coming months – I now think the most interesting question is, what long term impacts will the pandemic have on crisis comms? Maybe I’ll revisit this article in a decade or two.

You might also be interested in looking back at our Covid Media Snapshots featuring members of our global network around the world in May 2020. How much, and how little, has changed in a year.

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