Dr. Deena's PR Problem
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
The story was an interesting one, but was hardly mentioned in the news media. A Facebook fan page, dedicated to Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, had to be taken down by the man who created it.
The Dr. Deena Hinshaw Fan Club had more than 12,000 Facebook followers, but the page was removed last week after scores of rude and aggressive comments were made about Hinshaw and the page's administrators.
Behaviour like that on social media happens far too often these days unfortunately, but when it comes to Hinshaw's current popularity, we shouldn't really be surprised.
A New Hero Emerges
In the dark early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, Albertans found a new hero. Her name was Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
She came into our living rooms, or onto our computer screens every afternoon, as part of a government news conference. She always started by reading a statement prepared by staffers in the Health department and then took questions from members of the media over the phone.
In those early days, she started every answer with the word “so” and then paused for a second, almost like she needed a little more time to figure out what to say. She always did though, and used the same calm, cool and collected manner to answer questions from reporters.
Even in those dark days of March and early April, she told us things would be okay. We needed that.
Just like her counterpart on the other side of the mountains, Dr. Bonnie Henry in BC, Hinshaw became a folk hero without trying to be one.
Hinshaw and the Media
In those days, people had the same feeling. The pandemic wouldn’t last that long, but while it did, we needed to follow Dr. Hinshaw’s advice and stay home, away from others and wash our hands. We had to flatten the curve. We could do that couldn’t we?
Trouble was looming though. As the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, it became obvious the Kenney government wanted children to go back to school in the fall. After all, how could the economy be expected to return to anything close to normal if parents needed to keep staying home with their kids?
In early August, Hinshaw and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange held a news conference where three important announcements were made. School would start as scheduled in a few weeks, but parents would have an online option. Most students who attended school and all teachers and teaching assistants would be required to wear masks. However, Hinshaw said if students sat in a classroom facing away from each other, masks would not be required.
That last announcement seemed to get lost in the other news, which was unfortunate for Hinshaw because the government decided it needed to put everything from that news conference in writing, or in a government order as it's called. To make matters worse, the order wasn’t signed until Saturday, August 29, after around three out of every four parents had told their children’s schools their kids would be returning.
The following Monday, Hinshaw and the Health department were in full damage control, after social media blew up. The government even allowed Hinshaw to do a one-on-one interview with Global TV’s Julia Wong, the first one-on-one she had done with a mainsteam media outlet since the pandemic broke. Global TV and many other media outlets had been asking for such an interview for months, but were always told “not now.” The Health department’s communications team wanted to keep Hinshaw’s comments confined to a more structured setting where all questions could be easily monitored.
In that interview, Wong asked Hinshaw if she has felt political pressure when making her recommendations. Hinshaw responded by saying she felt her recommendations have always been listened to very respectfully. Good answer.
Her PR Problem
Hinshaw should not have been blamed for the order being dropped on the final Saturday in August. But she was. It was the people working around her in the Health department who should have taken the heat. They weren’t, because we don’t see them on TV every other day. We see Dr. Deena. She’s the face of the pandemic in Alberta.
In addition, all those highly paid government issues managers should have known an order like that being signed on a Saturday, right before school started, would be a social media powder keg. Hinshaw’s a doctor and a very busy one. The issues managers should have seen what was coming. That’s their job.
Hinshaw was the one apologizing, but she had a bigger problem on her hands. There was an increasing perception that her bosses wanted schools to open and she was forced to go along with it. In fact, she even gave it legitimacy by giving it her stamp of approval.
The Hinshaw Brand for months carried the same phrases – Stay Home, Stay Socially Distanced, Wash Your Hands, and eventually, Wear a Mask.
Parents were confused. They wondered how anyone who could have spent so many news conferences telling adults to be extremely cautious could suddenly have different instructions for children?
It was almost as if drivers were being told not to exceed 30 kilometers an hour, but children were being allowed to step on it in the Indy 500.
Simply put, there was a huge disconnect between what Hinshaw had been saying for months and what she said about children going back to school. That’s a credibility issue and a PR problem.
Everyone needs to remember Hinshaw is a doctor, not a politician. As the Chief Medical Officer of Health she has a lot of power, but like everyone else, she has bosses. It wasn’t her decision for children to go back to school. If you want to blame people for that, blame the Education Minister and the Premier.
I do think though, if Dr. Deena wrote a “tell all” book about the last six months of her life, it would be a hell of a read.
Images Courtesy of Global TV
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