A maxim of PR and communications is that it’s usually best to be straightforward. Write simply, in the first person and use plain language, not jargon. In addition, sometimes plain, old letter-writing works best.
That’s the theory behind UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s letter. It was sent starting today to the country's 30 million households.
Self-quarantined in number 10 Downing Street with the virus, Johnson’s message to his countrymen is simple and direct: stay home, please.
From a PR viewpoint, the 507-word letter works. It is composed in plain language, and is easy to read. There's little doubt about the main takeaway. In addition, Johnson gets to his point relatively quickly. He's 136 words when he tells people to stay home.
The letter largely is honest, though it is not an apology vehicle. Johnson fails to acknowledge that early on he resisted taking strong steps to slow the virus. In fact, it says, "From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time." That's open for debate. Critics say Johnson was slow in action to address the virus. For example, early this month Johnson famously said he’d continue shaking hands with people.
On the other hand, the missive has a direct honesty about it. For example, Johnson admits, “We know things will get worse before they get better.” It also acknowledges that without widespread cooperation, the country's national health service (NHS) will be overwhelmed.
Another point for Johnson is that the letter’s tone is lukewarm to warm. It's also upbeat, and includes an exhortation to the spirit of the British people. Johnson also offers support for those worried about finances: "The Government will do whatever it takes to help you make ends meet and put food on the table."
News reports of the letter came as London announced 1,000 Britons have died of COVID-19 thus far. The letter will cost about $7.1 million (£5.7 million) to produce and send to the country's 66 million people, reports said. A pamphlet about financial support accompanies the letter.
Here is Prime Minister Johnson’s letter in full:
I am writing to you to update you on the steps we are taking to combat coronavirus.
In just a few short weeks, everyday life in this country has changed dramatically. We all feel the profound impact of coronavirus not just on ourselves, but on our loved ones and our communities.
I understand completely the difficulties this disruption has caused to your lives, businesses and jobs. But the action we have taken is absolutely necessary, for one very simple reason.
If too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to cope. This will cost lives. We must slow the spread of the disease, and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment in order to save as many lives as possible.
That is why we are giving one simple instruction - you must stay at home.
You should not meet friends or relatives who do not live in your home. You may only leave your home for very limited purposes, such as buying food and medicine, exercising once a day and seeking medical attention. You can travel to and from work but should work from home if you can.
When you do have to leave your home, you should ensure, wherever possible, that you are two meters apart from anyone outside of your household.
These rules must be observed. So, if people break the rules, the police will issue fines and disperse gatherings.
I know many of you will be deeply worried about the financial impact on you and your family. The Government will do whatever it takes to help you make ends meet and put food on the table.
The enclosed leaflet sets out more detail about the support available and the rules you need to follow. You can also find the latest advice at gov.uk/coronavirus
From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time. We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do.
It's important for me to level with you - we know things will get worse before they get better. But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal.
I want to thank everyone who is working flat out to beat the virus, in particular the staff in our fantastic NHS and care sector across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has been truly inspirational to see our doctors, nurses and other carers rise magnificently to the needs of the hour.
Thousands of retired doctors and nurses are returning to the NHS - and hundreds of thousands of citizens are volunteering to help the most vulnerable. It is with that great British spirit that we will beat coronavirus and we will beat it together.
That is why, at this moment of national emergency, I urge you, please, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
This article is part of PRNEWS' daily COVID-19 coverage, click here to see the latest updates.