The Leaders’ Report: What Government Communicators Can Learn from the Covid-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 was many different things. It was a humanitarian crisis on a global scale. A shared experience and an experiment in behaviour change. A financial disaster and a reshaping of economies. A uniquely singular global problem that governments responded to in often uniquely different ways.

If the pandemic taught us one thing, it is that good government communication – when based on scientific evidence, backed by audience understanding, developed through behavioural insights, and delivered by an appropriate messenger – can save lives. But there is much more that governments need to learn about the changes forced by the pandemic in order to support their citizens through recovery and beyond.

Covid-19 altered public attitudes and constrained everyday behaviours at speed. It accelerated many changes that were already happening in societies around the world, and created new ones. Some of these changes are temporary and historical patterns will reassert themselves as the pandemic recedes. Some are still evolving and will continue to do so over the years to come. And some will eventually become permanent and ingrained in everyday life.

A complete return of old social patterns is unlikely to occur any time soon. Despite this, significant new patterns of behaviour are already emerging that will affect the relationship between citizens and the state, and that government communicators need to be ready to adapt to.

This report isn’t a catalogue of everything that’s happened since the Covid-19 virus began to affect countries. Rather, it is a composite picture of key pressures relevant to government communication identified by working with our clients, and by working with communication specialists in WPP partner agencies around the world. These include Blue State Digital, GroupM, Kantar Public, Ogilvy, VMLY&R and Wunderman Thompson.

The result is a précis of some of the emerging global pressures created by the crisis in how citizens interact with each other, with governments, with sources of information, and with platforms of technology.

Building on the findings of research conducted for the first and second editions of The Leaders’ Report, this publication summarises the importance of these changes to public bodies and public leaders, and hypothesises their longer-term impact.