A NSW communications promise helped businesses rise to the COVID-19 challenge

A connected, customer-centric and innovative communications strategy helped businesses comply with COVID Safe rules. Here’s how.  

Mayanne Lafontaine is the Manager, Strategy and Partnerships in the Department of Customer Service’s Brand and Campaigns team. Mayanne’s focus on partnerships in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities led her and her team to help businesses in South Western Sydney as COVID Safe Business registration was about to become mandatory.  

The vision of the Department of Customer Service (DCS) is to provide first-class service to the people of NSW. In 2019, a group of communications leaders from various government departments came together to articulate what that meant for NSW Government communications. We recognised that members of the public don’t see us as X department or Y department, they see us as one NSW Government. 

The result is the NSW All of Government Communications Framework, a commitment to working across government to deliver first-class communications to the people of NSW. It has three pillars: 

  • customer-centric  
  • connect  
  • innovate  

The emergence of COVID-19 in Australia provided the environment where the benefit of an All of Government Communications Framework was realised and highlighted the role of nsw.gov.au as a single, digital channel.   

COVID-19 brings new urgency to all of government communications  

The COVID-19 pandemic really accelerated our thinking in terms of putting the customer at the centre of everything we do. The Brand and Campaigns team in DCS had already developed and was managing a major customer-centred public health advertising campaign on behalf of whole of government. This was directly informed by customer insights and evolved in response to health advice and restrictions.  

In our CALD partnerships capacity, we were talking with local services in South Western Sydney, South Western Sydney Local Health District (LHD) and other agencies. Through our discussions with stakeholders, we realised that a lot of businesses were completing their COVID-19 Safety Plans incorrectly.  

The details on nsw.gov.au provided instructions for businesses but there were some gaps in awareness of how to pull it all together. There were also fines for non-compliance which would have a financial impact on businesses. 

Challenges threaten the ideal outcome  

Nobody wanted these businesses fined. The ideal outcome was – and is – COVID Safe business compliance. However, there was a range of challenges:  

  • many business owners and managers had a first language other than English 
  • they weren’t aware they had to complete the COVID-19 Safety Plan  
  • they had to change practices to comply with the plan, but they weren’t sure what they had to do 
  • a fine for non-compliance would be detrimental to these businesses both financially and in terms of reputation 

The urgency of all of the above, given that electronic registration was about to become mandatory.  

The Framework’s three pillars in action  

By understanding the situation from the customer’s perspective, we could start to build an MVP (minimum viable product) to help them with their experience. The Customer piece of the framework was truly front and centre.  

Through the Connect pillar of the framework, we brought together the NSW Government’s local health service, business concierge and Fairfield Council. We discussed what we could do to help businesses. We threw around ideas such as presentations, a webinar, or email blasts from council.  

We landed on what we felt these businesses needed most at the time – face-to-face, individualised visits. Together, we realised we had staff who could meet businesses in the area in person. As a result, Service NSW and the local health district conducted 417 visits over three days. 

They received such positive feedback from businesses in terms of the support and information provided to them. We learned that by understanding some of the barriers these businesses were facing, we could innovate and work as a cross-government team. We supplemented business visits with a webinar for extended reach. Attendees represented over 45 community organisations. 


Resource links to nsw.gov.au were provided after the event. The one-stop shop provided by the all-of-government website meant businesses didn’t have to spend time searching online for the right links. We had over 480 clicks on post-event resources and an additional 151 on-demand views of the webinar. 

COVID-19 pushed us in the direction we were already heading – that when people have a crisis, such as a bushfire or a pandemic, they don't look for a response from an individual department or agency. They want a clear, combined NSW Government response. 

What strategies have you used to deliver a central, cohesive response to a problem? Please share below.  

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