The City of West Hollywood declared a local COVID-19 emergency in March 2020 following declarations of emergency from the State and County. In the first days, the City of West Hollywood closed City Hall and facilities to the public and activated plans to remotely serve residents, businesses, and community members in day-to-day needs while responding to the rapidly emerging crisis.
A key priority was to communicate quickly with clarity and purpose to the City’s residents, businesses, and community members about Public Health orders, safer-at-home directives, emerging protocols, and steps to stay safe.
Immediate objectives included:
Creating a visual communications standard for COVID-19 communications;
Developing and promoting a web resource page at www.weho.org/coronarvirus;
Mailing a Citywide multi-language advisory to every household;
Activating a telephone/SMS/email tool for rapid alerts and advisories;
Installing electronic variable message boards in major corridors;
Deploying digital public safety advisories on bus shelters and electronic billboards;
Posting daily social media information, graphics, and news-format videos; and
Distributing multiple COVID-19 informational news releases each week to engage reporters and community members in new details about ordinances, health directives, and updates.
Within three months, efforts were expanded. The City created and launched a series of outdoor media, broadcast, and social media Public Service Announcements to reach a diverse range of constituents using colorful graphics, engaging humor, and attention-grabbing edginess.
A consistent goal has been to keep the community actively engaged with the development of new strategies to counteract apathy and combat message fatigue in reinforcing health-and-safety awareness.
The City of West Hollywood’s strategy to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to speak quickly, directly, and reassuringly to the community with a creative approach.
With so much confusion at the onset of the pandemic, the aim for West Hollywood’s communications has been to simplify and humanize information. The following priorities were established:
1) Amplify information regarding Public Health orders from Los Angeles County (Safer at Home), State of California (Stay at Home), and the CDC (news and updates), and provide regular up-to-date disease transmission reduction guidance.
2) Inform community members about West Hollywood’s responsive municipal and social services, and life-safety resources, such as:
For renters — City moratorium on eviction for to failure to pay rent because of financial hardship and housing resources;
For older adults — City partnership with local nonprofits to ensure residents’ access to food and support; and
For businesses and the workforce — City resources for businesses/workers and transportation, as well as information regarding temporary policies about food establishments, parking, and construction.
3) Repeat, at every touch point, public health information: “When in public, community members should maintain your space with physical distancing of at least six feet, and cover your face.”
The City of West Hollywood is located in the heart of metropolitan Los Angeles and features an advertising-saturated environment and a media-savvy community. To engage people, the design and execution of materials must be top-notch and stand out. COVID-19 communications implementation included special attention to audience segmentation and activation of multiple types of marketing channels, including:
General Community (street-lamp banners, median signage, mailed advisories, electronic billboards, downloadable PDFs for residents and businesses to print and post, and print/digital advertising). A Citywide outdoor campaign, Cover That Face/Maintain Your Space, was designed as the foundation of general communications with boldly illustrated people using cloth face coverings. Vibrant materials were deployed throughout the City.
Edgy Materials were developed to reach “invincible” youth resistant to advisory messaging (videos, graphics, racy language, humor, and shareable content). A “Don’t be a Maskhole” print campaign was followed by a social media-based series of 15-second videos carrying the blunt message: “Wear a F*****g Mask!”
Multiple Language Options for materials in order to reach monolingual populations (English, Russian, and Spanish).
Key features of the City’s COVID-19 communication efforts include:
Developing a sophisticated COVID-19 visual branding toolkit and a portfolio of illustrated ‘characters’ to represent a diverse cross-section of community members and who show compliance with face coverings and physical distancing. Graphical elements, key terminology, and typefaces were used throughout all materials and the City used a Canva enterprise platform for the quick development of branded materials across Departments and Divisions.
Consistent message saturation. Daily video updates in City social media (@wehocity) comprise more than 5,500 informational posts with broad informational topics. More than 300 media releases were written and distributed.
Engagement kit. Residents and businesses are encouraged to help share in promoting information by downloading and posting materials provided in an online engagement kit at www.weho.org/coverthatface.
The most basic measure of the City of West Hollywood’s success in meeting communications objectives and goals in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been high engagement and positive feedback. Each day, the City receives positive sentiment in keeping the community actively engaged with the latest COVID-19 information.
In a recent monthly web traffic analysis, the City’s website received approximately 150,000 page views with more than 66,000 unique visitors; the COVID-19 web resource page at www.weho.org/coronarvirus ranks in the top four highly trafficked page titles, indicating that it’s become the main hub of up-to-date information in the community. Hundreds of street banners and signs in highly trafficked commercial corridors, such as Route 66/Santa Monica Boulevard and the world-famous Sunset Strip add up to more than 10 million daily impressions. Daily video updates, social media posts, and regular PSA videos on social media and in local cable TV ad placements translate to countless thousands of views.
The deeper success, however, has been in steadily counteracting apathy and combatting message fatigue. West Hollywood’s media mix and audience segmentation for this effort has broken ground. The City has gotten high marks from community members for its general materials. But, the City’s edgy and humorous materials have stood out against the backdrop of conventional communications. As examples:
ComicBook.com, part of ViacomCBS, recognized West Hollywood for its innovative ‘Mandalorian’ PSA:
KPCC 89.3 FM highlighted the City’s irreverent tone in taking on important issues and in winning the attention of people during the pandemic: www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2020/12/14/21421