29 Sept 2022

CORONAVIRUS: An open letter to Ireland from lockdown Italy

An open letter from lock down Italy

Valentina Salaris on day 12 of lockdown in Milan

Valentina is an digital marketing expert who has lots of Irish clients. She lived in Ireland for more than 12 years and in 2010 she decided to return to Milan. In Italy she worked for Tourism Ireland for 8 years, and only 2 years ago she decided to set up as a freelance digital consultant.

During the last 3 weeks she had to face a new horrible situation: Covid19 and a lock down in Milan. Like everybody else in Italy, she had to adapt very quickly to a new way of living, a new way of thinking: everything changed very quickly for her and her family.

She considers Ireland her “second home” – and last week, while monitoring the situation here in Ireland, she decided to write an open letter to businesses and the people of Ireland – explaining her experience and giving tips and advices based on what is happening in Italy.

 “Dear Ireland,

A few days ago, I sent an email to some Irish tourism attractions and institutions with tips and ideas on how to cope with Coronavirus – a personal insight from lock down Milan with some personal observations on people's digital behaviour and businesses' 'response'.

Since under lock down here in Lombardy, things have changed rapidly, the situation from a health perspective it's getting worse: the death toll continues to increase and hospitals are full, forced to set up extra beds where possible and safe and even devising ideas to equip exhibition and trade centres with beds. 

I have been following both the Italian and Irish news - as some of my clients are Irish - and I see things are moving rapidly in Ireland too, following the exact Italian pattern: we were 'kindly' asked to stay home first, working remotely when possible, schools closed, pubs and restaurants were told to keep going observing 'social distancing' but people did not get the message and kept going on as normal.

Schools here in Lombardy closed at the end of February and some people thought it was a good idea to travel to their holiday homes up in the mountains or down south for a mini-holiday, spreading the virus further. Eventually a lock down was imposed on the whole country; some people panicked here too, there was bulk buying, there were days of confusion, mixed messages on what to do, 'online' blaming and shaming, and eventually even more people travelled: students and workers who lived up north, but were originally from the south, tried to reach their families - spreading the virus again.

We are now at a point where the police is patrolling the streets, and whoever leaves the house with "non-compelling reasons" (buying food or medicines) risks being fined or even arrested. When we leave the house, we are required to fill out a document stating our address of residency, where we are going and why - we need to carry this document with us, in case we are stopped. We have, however, calmed down; Italy has been locked down for one week now and has reluctantly accepted the situation - we need to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.

I work in digital, and I have been following the situation from this perspective too. There has been a massive surge in online buying, and social media channels are seeing an increase in engagement as we are all constantly connected to talk to family, friends, follow the news, comment live and tell our own personal 'story'. I manage a few Facebook accounts and noticed a massive increase in impressions and reach but I also noticed, here in Italy, that some businesses kept advertising special offers, hotels in particular kept pushing out messages offering people discounts and inviting people to 'book and travel'.

It is true, it is at least 10%-15% cheaper to get ads viewed by the same audience compared to few weeks ago. Studies showed that there has been a reduction in CPM - but these, in my opinion, are not good enough reasons to advertise - especially when the CTA is 'move', 'join', 'book', 'get out', or "business as usual".

Possibly the best use of organic messages right now is a 'new' (brand) awareness - putting people's condition and government messages at the heart of the communication. Entertaining people at home with live videos, webinars, online lessons, recipes, and readings. Online communication should not stop, it should simply shift focus to serve and facilitate the needs of consumers and tell one message: 'stay at home'. In my opinion, this applies to all of us: in Italy, in Ireland, in France, in Australia... everywhere.

While in lock down I also noticed many examples of good use of social media here: thanks to social media we were able to organise the famous 'sing-along' performances from our balconies, and virtually hug and support our nurses and doctors who are saving lives. Instagram is now THE channel where Italy gets the best entertainment: with live stories and live videos from many famous singers, presenters, and actors. Live (online) concerts, group chats, 'aperi-videos', virtual tours of exhibitions, group calls, fun memes, great advice, tips, book readings, recipes, and fitness classes - you name it!

Museums here have also adapted very well: I was able to "visit" Pompei (online) a few days ago, and although it is certainly not the same as physically being there, it was a great way to pass the time and it put Pompei on the list of my places to visit once this horrible situation ends.

Through my recent messages, I wanted to encourage Ireland not to make the same mistakes that we made at the beginning. Act fast, be agile, learn from what happened here, and adapt to change fast. We could have been in a completely different situation now if all of us believed that what was happening in China a few months ago was not a 'tale' from a far-away country.

Institutions sometimes move slowly and the pressure on governments is massive: they are stuck in the middle between the economic impact on a country and the health issues of the population. I am of the opinion that this is the time when each single action taken by individuals can make a difference. We are all called out to do what's best for the interest of our communities: digital consultants, hotels, pubs, taxi drivers, shop owners, local businesses, museums, teachers, big corporate companies - every single one of us.

I am under no illusion that the negative impact on tourism everywhere will be enormous. We cannot travel now and whenever this worrying time will end, we will be asked and reminded to put 'our country first'. 'Staycation' will be officially back.

I am hoping other countries, including Ireland (a country which I still call home) can learn from Italy: learn from our mistakes and replicate effective action! You have the chance to 'prepare'; the opportunity to see what worked best and what did not, the opportunity to diminish the impact of this horrible disaster on people's lives, on businesses and tourism. 

Here is my 2 cents - over and out from lock down Milan!

Stay safe, stay at home,

Valentina Salaris.

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