Maintaining a healthy reputation

Whakarongorau Aotearoa

As Aotearoa New Zealand grappled with the COVID-19 lockdown of 2021, health providers and Government focused on vaccinating as many people as possible, while combating misinformation about the pandemic and navigating a politically charged atmosphere around the vaccine rollout for Māori.  COVID Healthline, run by Whakarongorau Aotearoa, became the first port of call for Kiwis seeking answers, reassurance, and tangible support.

Whakarongorau Aotearoa has three services supporting the Government’s COVID-19 response: the COVID-19 Healthline for general information; the COVID-19 Welfare team supports people affected by COVID-19; and the COVID-19 Vaccination Healthline.

It was into this volatile and complex environment at the end of June 2021, that Wright Communications was engaged by Whakarongorau Aotearoa Chief Executive Andrew Slater. 

The Brief

The immediate concern was reputation management for Whakarongorau Aotearoa as it was rapidly training new staff to respond to questions from the public and health providers ranging from vaccination booking locations to health queries that had to be sensitively escalated to its team of medical professionals. Subsequently it was managing scrutiny about deaths while people were self-isolating in the community. The brief evolved as lockdown extended and included PR activation of Whakarongorau’s involvement in the Super Saturday ‘Vaxathon’.

Wright Communications knew operational risks that became material reputation issues would undermine the Government’s pandemic response and we became trusted advisers to maintain the organisation’s credibility with key health sector stakeholders, especially MoH and DHBs.

We became an integral part of the Whakarongorau Aotearoa team advising how to protect and enhance the organisation’s reputation, and developing strategic communication pillars comprising reactive support, stakeholder communications, content/channel development and proactive storytelling.


  • We reviewed and revised the client’s communications toolkit, including key message framework, media strategy and situation reports to clearly brief key MOH and DHB stakeholders.
  • We introduced CEO Andrew Slater to news media heads to explain Healthline’s involvement in the COVID-19 response, build visibility of the organisation and establish Andrew as a trusted voice of reason. 
  • These meetings led to an editorial in NZ Herald and stories about Whakarongorau Aotearoa’s Maori language services and Top 10 questions asked in Stuff.
  • We developed the Super Saturday media communications programme resulting in interviews with Andrew on Radio NZ Nine to Noon and Newstalk ZB.
  • We prepared case studies Healthline’s regional partner contact centres which formed the basis for interviews with Waatea News.
  • The team provided counsel on messaging and media training for Andrew for interviews about three COVID-19 deaths that occurred when people were isolating at home.
  • We developed an Operational Transparency initiative publishing statistics about Whakarongorau Aotearoa’s performance on its website.
  • We created and shared with key stakeholders an infographic showing Whakarongorau Aotearoa’s role in the COVID-19 response.
  • We continue to provide senior PR counsel for CEO Andrew Slater, Communications Director Robyn Bern and Head of Strategy Amanda Webb.

From a standing start on 1 July, Wright Communications is now a valued strategic partner, providing communications advice and implementation for an organisation that has been a key player in New Zealand’s world-leading COVID-19 response.

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