The National Gallery Singapore (NGS) is an art museum that houses “the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art” (About the Gallery, n.d.). As a public institution, it is open to residents and nationals in Singapore and tourists. While the gallery receives public funding and donations, it also charges admission fees; Singaporeans enter the gallery at no cost while non-Singaporeans pay for admission. Furthermore, the gallery’s survival is predicated upon sustaining a healthy flow of visitors into the museum as it signals to the National Arts Council (NAC) and ministries the importance and relevance of the institution and its events (Ho, 2019). It is vital that the museum remains open. Thus, events that restrict or halt the flow of admissions into NGS can reasonably be construed as threats.
One such threat that materialised in late 2019 was the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) which prompted governments across the world to close their borders and restrict air travel. Countries enacted safety measures that included the closure of public spaces (Tay, 2020). Locally, the Singapore government mandated social distancing measures and only allowed essential operations and businesses to continue during the initial phases of the pandemic (Circuit breaker extension, 2020). Evidently, the threats materialised as health risks and movement restrictions. Here, it is crucial to point out that the government can also be construed as a threat; The ministries mandated the change in social behaviour which directly impacted the museum’s operations and its key stakeholders such as members of the public and employees of NGS.
So, safety measures were mandated to ensure public safety. Yet, it also caused a dip in revenue since visitors cannot enter the museum, essentially piling on longer term impacts on operational sustainability. With a fall in foot traffic and revenue, job cuts may be one way to reduce operational costs and keep the gallery afloat (Chia, 2020). Thus, the social distancing measures, while necessary, pose an operational threat to the employees at NGS. Nevertheless, not all is doom, as the museum released an advisory in June this year, detailing the reopening of its galleries (Advisory, 2020). Though safe distancing measures are in place, the risks still remain and can affect visitors and employees alike.
Another potential threat comes from the wider entertainment industry. People have finite time, resources, and attention. They seek entertainment and can access them from mobile devices anywhere. Considered as one of the most successful companies in the streaming subscription service industry, Netflix is readily accessible to audiences around most parts of the world and has experienced year-on-year growth (Richter, 2020). Streaming video services such as Netflix are threats since they can draw audiences away from museums.
Still, NGS can formulate crisis preparation plans to remain resilient against threats. They will start off by appointing staff to the crisis team and can include senior management and employees in key positions. Next, the plan will detail the steps in identifying an issue then classifying it as a threat or crisis; This step is crucial because it informs the gallery’s actions and timely response. Regardless of the severity of the threat, the CEO will communicate the actions and precautions that NGS will take to key stakeholders such as staff, visitors, and government entities, while working with two teams: Crisis and communication. All communication to internal or external stakeholders will be done at the earliest viable moment to show that NGS is proactive in dealing with a crisis.
Above all, the crisis team will continually analyse the situation while the communications team articulates the museum’s actions. Communication will be broken down into internal and external forms. All internal communication will take place through face to face meetings and by disseminating memos through emails or staff portals. This step is predicated upon the immediate identification of the threat. Where feasible, instructions given during a crisis will be done over meetings at the museum. However, in situations such as the coronavirus pandemic, communications will take place over web portals, emails, phone messaging, or calls. The crisis preparation plan will hence detail the way in which communications are done, based on threat identification and differentiation that then informs safety measures.
Then, the communications team will work with the CEO in crafting the specific messages meant for internal and external communications to key constituencies. Where staff are concerned, it is vital that NGS reassure employees that they will do everything to ensure that nobody will lose their job regardless of any crisis; Such actions help to build and retain staff morale. These announcements and internal memos will be made by the CEO to demonstrate leadership, trust, and resilience.
The plan will also detail how NGS will communicate with external parties. Here, NGS will harness digital platforms such as social media and emails when reaching out to key constituencies such as the public and government ministries. Its social media lets NGS disseminate its messaging through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube (Austin et al., 2012). The crisis preparation plan will detail the tailored communication for each service as they appeal to different demographics even if there is some overlap. In all cases, it is vital that NGS be prompt and honest when detailing their actions to the public while keeping the core messaging consistent across different media. Depending on the channel, the CEO or the communications team will convey the information, whether they be positive or negative news. Still, the communications team must ensure outgoing communications remain transparent (Tan, 2019, Study Unit 3).
In an event such as the Covid-19 pandemic or a national crisis, NGS will act in lockstep with government measures. The plan will include instructions on the actions that the museum will take, such as social distancing between individuals and groups, physical and digital check-ins, and contact tracing. NGS will also detail plans for employees to work from home, and in teams to stagger their presence at the office to minimise contact between people. Crucially, the crisis team will differentiate the measures into those that affect stakeholders from the internal and external groups; This is meant for targeted crisis communication and in ensuring relevance in messaging. Meanwhile, the communications team must keep members of the public updated through timely and periodic media releases at its press room (Press releases, n.d.).
NGS must also ensure that part of their crisis communication involves relaying the importance and relevance of the museum to all stakeholders. This is to position the museum as a vital institution within society, whether in times of crisis or not. Long term relevance also builds employee trust and confidence. This goes a long way towards ensuring that NGS survives in good or bad times, and building resilience in its people.
NGS’s communications team will engage the media at the earliest possible and viable moment once the crisis team ascertains the severity of the threat. The crisis team will notify the CEO who will then inform the board members. The communications team will assist the CEO in drafting the announcements and advisories to news media. The principles of crisis communication still apply: Be honest, frank, and transparent about the effects of a crisis. NGS must detail what they are experiencing, and how they would go about resolving the issue, while communicating to not just the news media, but all relevant stakeholders.
Media engagement cannot be ignored. This activity can be controlled and performed by an internal media relations team within the communications department. Appointed staff must also understand the timely dissemination of updates to the news media. In addition, they must store a list of email addresses and contact numbers of key media personnel so as to be able to reach them efficiently and on short notice. It is crucial to note that news media is not only within the realm of state, but includes the private and public spheres too. Hence, NGS must maintain a vested interest in keeping close contact with state and private news entities. During a crisis, the media relations team will issue press releases, and directly contact relevant news media. The media relations team will prioritise the announcement of the museum’s actions in a timely manner to key media personnel and institutions.
Next, NGS can establish a hotline and direct media requests and interviews to a dedicated email that reaches the media relations team. Media engagement is after all, a responsibility borne by not just NGS alone; Communication works both ways. Hence, NGS cannot only be issuing announcements and updates. Its team must anticipate queries from the press and the public and respond accordingly. The media relations team will monitor incoming emails and also man the hotlines. In a crisis, NGS, as an entity, must remain contactable and answerable to its constituencies.
Above all, NGS must consistently update key constituencies and the news media where relevant. The media relations team will articulate the decisions and plans from management and the crisis team. Additionally, the team must also read the news, consume related media and stories regarding NGS and the crisis. The objective here is to issue corrections and maintain open communication with the media. If the crisis has potential, or has caused reputational damage to NGS, then the media relations team must interject as soon as it is viable to do so (Coombs, 2007).
Regardless of whether the crisis has inflicted reputational or structural damage to the museum, NGS must strive to maintain a positive image in the eyes of its constituencies. This necessitates the close cooperation of all staff across every department, and in tactfully engaging the news media to watch for positive, as well as negative sentiments (Argenti, 2008).
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Advisory on Covid-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019). (2020, June 26). National Gallery Singapore. https://www.nationalgallery.sg/advisory
Argenti, P. A. (2008). Corporate Communication (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill.
Austin, L., Liu, B. F., & Jin, Y. (2012) How audiences seek out crisis information: Exploring the social-mediated crisis communication model, Journal of Applied Communication Research, 40(2), 188-207. https://doi.org/10.1080/00909882.2012.654498
Chia, O. (2020, April 3). Museums, galleries struggling to stay open during Covid-19 outbreak. The New Paper. https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/museums-galleries-struggling-stay-open-during-covid-19-outbreak
Circuit Breaker extension and tighter measures: What you need to know. (2020). Gov.sg. https://www.gov.sg/article/circuit-breaker-extension-and-tighter-measures-what-you-need-to-know
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Ho, O. (2019, January 31). Visitor numbers for museums, heritage centres hit record high. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/arts/visitor-numbers-for-museums-heritage-centres-hit-record-high
Press releases | National Gallery Singapore. (2020). National Gallery Singapore. https://www.nationalgallery.sg/about/news/press-room
Richter, F. (2020, July 17). Infographic: Global expansion fuels Netflix’s growth. Statista Infographics; Statista. https://www.statista.com/chart/20345/netflix-subscriber-growth-by-region/
Tan, R. (2019). COM203 Visual texts and communication (study guide). Singapore University of Social Sciences.
Tay, T. F. (2020, March 31). Coronavirus: Entertainment venues fear permanent closure after mandatory shutdown. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/coronavirus-entertainment-venues-fear-permanent-closure-after-shutdown