This article was first published on 20th March 2020
It seems fantastically irrelevant to consider this question given the human crisis unfolding. Who cares now about that infrastructure project you were pushing for when a) people face personal financial hardship and b) investors are running for hills in any case? Those of us in the world of campaigns are finding out just how economically non-essential we are during the fight against Covid-19 compared to the actual key workers keeping this country going.
However, as the last few days have shown, the crisis has in fact necessitated thousands of new campaigns. From the nationwide campaign to communicate public health advice to that of the supermarkets trying to manage demand, right down to the urgent appeals of whole sectors for Government support and individual firms to keep their customers. And now is a unique time when a large number of people are at home with nothing to do, glued to their screens. There is a captive audience, already engaged.
In fact, a successful campaign now to mobilise public support for an industry could mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy. Who, for example, is going to rally support for thousands of small retailers and restauranteurs if the Government orders them to close in the coming days and weeks?
And there is a longer term perspective too. Right now it’s hard to think much beyond 48 hours in advance. But economic life must return to normal eventually (even if that prospect seems very remote at the moment). Business critical projects put on hold will be dusted off and re-started. In a weird sort of way, this state of suspended animation creates the space to plan for the day after tomorrow. Campaigns that find themselves temporarily irrelevant have the relative luxury of time to plan for their resumption.
Granted that is an optimistic view, but optimism is what our economy so desperately needs right now. Failing that, then at least a feeling that there is something beyond the immediate crisis that resembles normal life.
More broadly, the transition back from a ‘wartime’ government, enacting unprecedented policies of intervention at every level of life, to what came before will be fraught with complication that will take years to untangle. Whole sectors will need to be continually engaged with that effort as our new economy emerges.
This crisis has prompted the biggest campaign seen in living memory: to mobilise a nation to act as one in seeing off this disease. It’s the most important campaign there’s ever been.