Melbourne Polytechnic campus check in tent
Public Relations for Melbourne Polytechnic

COVID-19 strategic communications for Melbourne Polytechnic

Using communications to navigate the COVID-19 crisis

Strategic communications at a time
of heightened uncertainty

At the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020, no one could have anticipated the degree of organisational change and communication that would be required of businesses.

Melbourne Polytechnic, a vocational education and higher education institute in Melbourne, is one of many such businesses which experienced an unprecedented shift in the way their services were delivered.

Icon Reputation was engaged to act as the institute’s corporate communications department, advising them over a 12-month period throughout the peak of the pandemic.

We worked as part of a network team within the institute, developing strategy, messaging and coordinating efforts, as well as implementing communications and acting as a media liaison. Communications covered internal and external stakeholders, from students and staff to suppliers and ministers.

This enabled Melbourne Polytechnic to display strong and effective leadership, ensure their campuses remained safe, and effectively react to government guidelines that were at times changing by the hour.

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Man scanning barcode at Melbourne Polytechnic

Communicating the biggest change
in an institution’s 100-year history

For Melbourne Polytechnic, COVID-19 would represent the biggest shifts in service delivery in the institute’s 100-year history. It affected the entire institute, from staff working arrangements to the delivery mode of course and support services, tenancy arrangements, enrolment processes and the way the community connected with one another.

Melbourne Polytechnic had to completely rethink the way it delivered its services. Classes were rescheduled and moved online, new working practices were implemented, and essential staff members had to be managed. Apprentices and placements were impacted, and new safety processes were introduced.

To complicate matters, this all came off the back of a recent data breach. At the start of the pandemic Melbourne Polytechnic had no corporate communications capability to communicate the significant changes taking place. But it was clear that strong, effective leadership and communications would be needed to maintain trust between the organisation and its community.

Melbourne Polytechnic had to provide regular updates and this messaging would have to be consistent, accurate and concise. It needed to clearly describe the actions taken, and the behaviours required to mitigate risks.

Given the institute’s outward-facing brand proposition, there was also a need to act openly and emphatically whenever possible.

The key challenge was making the community, staff and students feel as comfortable as possible. Icon Reputation was brought onboard to ensure these key stakeholders did not perceive a dissonance between how Melbourne Polytechnic presents itself during business-as-usual times and how it behaves in times of crisis.

A trusted partner with actionable advice

Icon Reputation worked as part of a network of teams, comprising key Melbourne Polytechnic staff and leadership.

Our job was to lead in developing strategy, messaging and coordinating efforts, implementing communications and pivoting the approach as quickly as restrictions shifted.

Part of the brief was to provide counsel and recommendations. But what Melbourne Polytechnic really needed was a partner that would be able to take a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the situation across stakeholder needs and potential reputational issues.

We evaluated our approach at key moments during the campaign and received feedback to continuously improve our communications throughout. One example was our approach to video content; it received high engagement in the early stages of the pandemic as staff were working remotely for the first time then dropped off after several months. We then made the switch to written content to suit the consumption trends of our target audience.

Icon Reputation’s approach was underpinned by the following strategic principles:

  • Be prepared – plan as much as possible for different scenarios

  • Be timely – communicate at times when audiences are most responsive or have greatest need for information

  • Be accurate – COVID-19 has created a fast changing landscape, need to ensure information is correct and avoid conjecture wherever possible

  • Be succinct – ensure information is easy-to-understand amidst panic or confusion

  • Be present – communicate regularly to demonstrate leadership and provide support.

Sanitary items in the classroom

Clear communications when
it’s needed most

Melbourne Polytechnic retained Icon Reputation in their corporate communications department for 12 months to manage all COVID-19 related communications to internal and external stakeholders.

Mid-campaign surveys indicated 90% of students felt they were given enough information about Melbourne Polytechnic’s response to COVID-19, and 80% of staff were satisfied with the communications and felt confident in their understanding of requirements.

Throughout the 12 months, there was no media reporting on confirmed COVID-19 cases at Melbourne Polytechnic or criticism about the health and safety measures in place. This is partly attributable to the quality of communications being shared with stakeholders, and the considered nature of responses and management of complaints.

At the completion of our work, Melbourne Polytechnic had templates and processes in place, and upskilled in-house staff to continue the activity.

Icon Reputation has a long-standing relationship with the institute and we are continuing to work with Melbourne Polytechnic as their go-to partner for strategic communications support.

Top results:

  • 90% of students said they were given enough information about Melbourne Polytechnic’s response to COVID-19

  • 80% of staff felt confident in understanding their new requirements

  • People Matters survey indicated positive increases from the prior year including perception of: senior leaders caring about psychological health of staff (+32%); support from senior leaders to work in an environment of change (+26%); and feeling informed by managers (+20%).

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