Ebola: A Call to Arms

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The Ebola Outbreak, Government of Liberia

In 2014, an outbreak of Ebola was discovered in Liberia. This fast became an epidemic that overwhelmed medical services, and an ill-equipped military was unable to quarantine affected areas of the country or halt the unnecessary travel that spread the virus.
Challenge

By the end of July 2014 the Ebola outbreak escalated to become the world’s worst, threatening Liberia and its neighbours with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis. Without a concerted international response – financial aid, medical expertise, logistical support and supplies – Liberia faced a humanitarian disaster not witnessed since the end of its civil war in 2003.

"BTP Advisers: one of the unsung heroes of our soon to be full recovery from Ebola" Office of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia

Credit: CNN

Work

Immediately we installed an international crisis communications team, working in close partnership with the Government, while we swiftly developed a longer-term strategy to handle the crisis. Our target was to speak with one message to governments and intergovernmental organisations including the UN, EU, IMF and World Bank. It was also important to affect the public perception of Ebola.

"Their ability to place our President and Ministers on the global stage had a truly lasting impact. Our government could quickly and effectively speak to the world and mobilize support, thanks to BTP." Amara Konneh, Former Finance Minister, Government of Liberia

We would be additionally required to make a push into particular territories to counter misinformation or any anti-Liberian sentiment. We immediately set up a 24-hour international press office based in London as a point of call for all international media enquiries, ensuring a Liberian voice in reporting of the crisis. Each morning we held briefing calls with the Minister of Information. When the crisis reached its peak – such as the declaration of a State of Emergency – BTP distributed daily briefings to its targeted international media contacts. This led to a consistent voice from the government.

Credit: UNMEER/Simon Ruf

Liberia remains an unknown country to many and without understanding its recent civil war there was less likelihood for empathy. We also forcefully communicated the devastating effects of an unchecked Ebola outbreak on its post-war economy.

BTP arranged for several interventions by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Most notably, we wrote a “Letter to the World”, read out by President Sirleaf and broadcast across the BBC. It was an impassioned plea for help that swept the global media, running across multi-platforms on TV and Radio and going viral on social media.

"Best Issues & Crisis Campaign" PRWeek Global Awards 2015

Op-eds and interviews for the President and senior Ministers appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Wall Street Journal and the BBC to name a few.

We counseled daily the Minister of Information, setting goals for both the short, medium and long term communications strategy.

Results

We saw how our campaign contributed to turning the tide on Ebola in Liberia, through the enlisting of international support. We helped wake up and galvanise the international community behind the President and her country.

3000 US Marines were dispatched to Liberia to help defeat the epidemic; medical aid – including doctors – was delivered from the UK and EU. Overall, over half a billion dollars of financial and humanitarian aid was received from across the world to support Liberia's post-Ebola economic recovery.

We pushed for rapid assistance for the national budget and gave capacity for the Government to speak to the world during a period of profound uncertainty. BTP was awarded the Global PRWeek Award in 2015.

 Credit: US Army Africa