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‘Kind, calm and safe’: Catch phrases one key to B.C.’s success managing COVID-19

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announce sixth confirmed case of COVID-19. Richard Zussman/Global News

It’s on T-shirts, on sandwich boards and on posters.

But before “Be kind, be calm and be safe” was a phrase for all British Columbians, it was Dr. Bonnie Henry’s.

“That came from Dr. Henry,” Health Minister Adrian Dix told Global News.

“This wasn’t about announcing something about an innovation in health care. It was about something that involved five million people.”

Click to play video: '‘Bend the curve, not the rules:’ B.C. health minister has message ahead of long weekend' ‘Bend the curve, not the rules:’ B.C. health minister has message ahead of long weekend
‘Bend the curve, not the rules:’ B.C. health minister has message ahead of long weekend – Apr 7, 2020

Catch phrases have become a huge part in the province’s approach to dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s a strategy communications experts say has worked — and continues to work.

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Anna Lilly from FleishmanHillard HighRoad has been a communications professional for more than 25 years, and says in speaking to other experts in the field she hears lots of compliments for the way the province has communicated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hear a lot of high praise for Dr. Henry,” Lilly said.

“What we have seen is a demonstration of best practices around health communication. Communication that is designed to deliberately influence behaviours. People’s behaviours during a pandemic are ultimately essential to the outcome.”

Dr. Henry debuted the “Be kind, be calm and be safe” line on March 17. Since then she has used the phrase 45 times.

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But Dr. Henry isn’t alone in her determination to repeat herself.

Adrian Dix has used the term “100 per cent all-in” 39 times during the regular media updates on the pandemic.

Lilly says the key to strong health communications are simple messages that are memorable and elicit an emotional reaction.

“Repeat, repeat, repeat. That is how you get messages through,” Lilly said.

“We always hear from her (Dr. Henry) that all individuals have a role to stop spread of the disease even you are at low risk. She brought it into the conversation is various different ways. She cares and she wants all of us to care.”

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Dix says the province hasn’t prioritized the catch phrases but does acknowledge they are important.

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But more paramount in the province’s strategy is providing the public consistent information.

“The key part is giving people all the information, all the time. Letting people know what we know and that reinforces confidence. We were first to do our modelling, we put it out there. We laid out why people should be ‘100 per cent all-in,'” Dix said.

Dix was unable to hold back on his catch-phrase when reflecting on the strategy.

Click to play video: 'Extended: One-on-one with Dr. Bonnie Henry' Extended: One-on-one with Dr. Bonnie Henry
Extended: One-on-one with Dr. Bonnie Henry – Mar 10, 2020

Nancy Spooner, from Nancy Spooner consulting, says to determine the effectiveness of the catch phrases it is important to understand the province’s objectives.

Spooner says her sense is the province is trying to build trust and confidence in leaderships’ ability to manage the crisis and keep British Columbians safe.

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Dr. Henry and Dix are consistent in maintaining calm and alleviating fear while building awareness and understanding about the nature of the threat brought on from the virus, she added.

“She (Dr. Henry) knew from her many years of experience that in order to alleviate fear, she would need to provide reliable, consistent information,” Nancy Spooner said.

“The daily briefings accomplished that, but her real power comes from her tone. In my view, the tone of messaging is almost more important than the message itself. Dr. Henry’s ability to deliver information in a consistently calm, strong, and empathetic tone is the single most important key to her success.”

Now that the curve has flattened and restrictions are being lifted the next challenge will be keeping people engaged.

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Lilly says it is hard for people to remain committed after experience significant success.

“It’s inevitable there will be some fatigue out there from people. So that is the next challenge for officials, is how to sustain that sense of shared obligation and responsibility,” Lilly said.

Dr. Henry herself is a big part of the strategy.

Dix says she is an “excellent communicator” especially when it comes to complicated issues. But even he understands the challenges ahead.

“You can’t assume everyone is following every press conference. You have to deliver the message consistently in the hopes other people will deliver that message to people they know,” Dix said.

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As to who is responsible for the most memorable catch phrases, Dix says he has received lots of help.

Some come from his brain, others from Dr. Henry but most come from the big communications arm of government working for both public health and the provincial government.

Then there is also the help from everyday British Columbians.

“We have a really good team in my office. We have really good people working with Bonnie. We have really good people in communications,” Dix said.

“That’s the power of the phrases. Being calm and consistent over time and applying these rules has really worked for us. I get lots of suggestions of other phrases from members of the public as well.”

Of all the memorable phrases, there are clearly a handful that stand out. Here are the top ten decided by Twitter users. Follow the tweets below to vote for the top phrase of the pandemic.

Top Ten COVID-19 phrases in British Columbia

“100 per cent all in.” – Adrian Dix

“Physical distancing saves lives.” – Adrian Dix

“Stay local, stay apart, stay safe.” – Adrian Dix

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“This is not the time to do rapid serial dating, okay?” – Dr. Bonnie Henry

“Bend the curve, not the rules” – Both Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry

“Be kind, be calm and be safe” – Dr. Bonnie Henry

“Fewer faces, bigger spaces” – Dr. Bonnie Henry

“This is not forever. It is for now” – Dr. Bonnie Henry

“Flatten the curve.” – Dr. Bonnie Henry

“Stand together in our pandemic, while staying apart.” – Dr. Bonnie Henry

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