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Corona Diaries: The Spiky Blob – Branding the Coronavirus

The day after the CDC launched its emergency operations center for the new coronavirus Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins were asked to make an illustration of the virus to give it an identity. Something eye-catching to get the public’s attention which could be used as the ‘face’ of the epidemic.

As CDC medical illustrators, they use art to make difficult medical concepts more accessible. They’ve created images for viruses before like Zika and Ebola, so this was a regular job and they weren’t expecting their work to go global. But, as the pandemic spread, the image started to show up on screens everywhere, “it started popping up around the world.”

I can’t remember the branding for Zika and Ebola – just did a quick Google search – ah, the red mosquito, but this coronavirus, with its red spikes, orange and yellow crumbs has burrowed into my brain. I’m not dreaming about it yet, but I am hypnotised when the news comes on. It also pops into your head at random moments like when someone invades your personal space or when you reach for something in the supermarket – a reminder to be careful as viruses can live on surfaces for up to three days. Doktor Zoom has been photoshopping it into all the images of Donald Trump…

How did they do it? They took a different approach to create this image – a detailed solo ‘beauty shot’ to highlight one virus and bring it to life. The texture and shadows give it depth and you can imagine how spiky it feels. It also had to work with other branding materials for COVID-19 so they chose red/grey with orange/yellow dots as it was the most arresting, “it just really stood out.”

“The novel coronavirus, like all viruses, is covered with proteins that give it its character and traits. There are the spike proteins, or S-proteins — the red clusters in the image — which allow the virus to attach to human cells. Envelope or E-proteins, represented by yellow crumbs, help it get into those cells. And membrane proteins, or M-proteins, shown in orange, give the virus its form.”

It’s an iconic image and the most powerful piece of branding so far in 2020. How remarkable that it was created in just a week.

A visual reminder to #StayHomeStaySafe. Alissa is happy that “it’s out there doing its job.”

I’ve used it to illustrate my Corona Diaries posts – here’s the full credit info: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS.

More on her work at CDC in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zszPyKtBVJg&feature=youtu.be

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Corona Diaries: Workers Who Fall Through the Cracks

Thank you, Harriet Harman!

The Labour MP for Camberwell & Peckham has written a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak on behalf of self-employed creatives who fall through the cracks re government support for coronavirus.

Picture 1

“I am writing to ask what further provision you are considering for these self-employed people who fall between the two schemes and to register my backing of Equity’s proposals to address this issue.

“I am concerned that many self-employed people, those working on a series of fixed-term PAYE contracts and those operating as limited companies are not eligible. This will disproportionally hit those in the creative industries.” Well said 🙏.

The government has done a fantastic job pulling support schemes together at speed during this crisis. Inevitably there will be holes and not everyone is eligible. As a sole director/limited company, I fall through the cracks. I was due to start a second contract via an agency which has now been withdrawn. See this thread on LinkedIn from workers who fall through the cracks. “I’ve been working for a year. I don’t regard myself as new.” – a PR/comms consultant messaged me.

Picture 2If you’re in the same boat, here’s Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com. More advice in his guide here.

Picture 3So, you may be able to furlough PAYE pay – i.e. get 80% of salary up to £2,500 a month. This isn’t likely to be huge as most earn more via dividends (no help there), but it’s something, and you can combine it with universal credit. But only if your PAYE scheme was created on or before 28 February 2020. And with Universal Credit, what happens if you have money set aside in your business account to pay tax/running costs and are over the savings threshold? Are you then ineligible for support? I’ve asked for clarification as many contractors will be in this position.

If I do furlough myself then technically, I can’t work for ‘the firm’, I can only perform statutory director’s obligations e.g. official legal filings. That’s not practical. I can’t not work for three months – I’ll have no business. I’m constantly pitching ideas, networking, marketing myself online, applying for contracts etc. Am I supposed to write letters to  ‘furlough’ myself and then ‘employ’ myself again? It sounds bonkers! It’s also unfair that sole traders are eligible for a grant AND can carry on working but the same rule doesn’t apply to sole directors. Many of us have no option other than to incorporate as Ltd to get agency work. This is one thing that could be changed along with abolishing the savings rule for Universal Credit for the interim, and including dividends in PAYE income. IPSE has some good ideas here.

The other option is to apply for a Business Interruption Loan – open from 6 April 2020 and now expanded to include SMEs who didn’t meet the criteria before. This is the last resort as I’m debt-averse these days. I don’t have an overdraft and I wouldn’t be eligible as I’m paying off debt and can’t take out credit.

So, it looks like it’s Universal Credit or nothing – if I’m eligible. As Harriet Harman points out in her letter: “Current government advice is [for her] to sign up to Universal Credit which doesn’t cover her monthly rent, let alone bills or food.

“There can be no justification for self-employed workers to not receive the same level of support as employed throughout this Coronavirus crisis.

“The creative industries contribute over £100bn to the UK economy and are vital for our culture and global identity. When this crisis is over, we will need this industry to be strong and at the forefront of our economic recovery.”

Thank you to Harriet Harman, Tracy Brabin and the many other MPs and business leaders who are lobbying and campaigning to give self-employed creative workers a voice. It is much appreciated.

Have a question for Rishi? Use the hashtag #AskRishi on Twitter. The best way to engage with MPs and government is via Twitter.

Picture 4

Picture 5

The Guardian: Millions in UK ‘could slip through virus wage safety net.

 

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Corona Diaries: Government Package for the Self-employed – are you happy with it?

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has just announced outline details of the rescue package for the self-employed.

Here’s a summary of the key points from Daniel Barnett Employment Law:

  • a newly self-employed income support scheme will pay self-employed people a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly income, capped at £2,500pm
  • income will be calculated by taking the average income over the last three years
  • self-employed people can claim these grants and continue to do business (so, it’s not the same as furlough leave, where employees have to remain at home)
  • the scheme is open to anyone with trading profits of up to £50k (this covers 95% of self-employed people). Self-employed people who earn more will not qualify
  • the scheme is only open to those who make the majority of income from self-employment; if you are employed but have a ‘side job’ which is self-employed, you will not be eligible
  • the scheme is only open to those who have submitted a tax return for 2019 (to minimise fraud). However, those who did not submit their tax return by the due date of 31 January 2020, and have not yet submitted one, can still submit a tax return for 2019 within a further four weeks from today
  • there are no steps to take. HMRC will contact eligible self-employed people directly and pay the grant straight into their bank account after inviting them to fill out an online form
  • the self-employed income support scheme will be open to people across the UK for at least three months. However, the scheme is unlikely to be up and running before the end of June, so it will not help with immediate cash flow issues

Seems like a fair and generous package in line with what’s being offered to employees, but not all freelancers will be eligible.

Initial thoughts from my NUJ colleagues:

“I’ve just watched Sunak’s briefing, and am relatively pleased with what has been announced. It doesn’t go far enough to help those at the bottom of the freelance earnings scale, but the timescale for payments notwithstanding, by large it seems fair and reasonable.

Sunak claims that the scheme will benefit “95%” of the self-employed and stated clearly that the remaining 5% are those with profits of over 50K/year who won’t be ineligible for the income support grant. But what about those who, say, became self-employed in the last tax year, and have savings? They cannot claim Universal Credit. Sunak’s 95:5% ratio cannot be correct, and I suspect a significant number of self-employed will suffer.” Dr Francis Sedgemore, Chair, NUJ Freelance Industrial Council

“Sky News reported that only a third of freelancers could be eligible, something to do with them paying comparatively less tax.

Ltd companies are apparently not eligible, those who already received top-ups from Universal Credit, moved to UC from existing benefits like Working Tax Credits, (I know of several freelancers in this position) not eligible.

Twitter is already full of a lot of people who became self-employed since the beginning of the last year tax year who are ineligible, there seem to be a lot of these around, possibly a higher number than anyone imagined.

The money will be with freelancers by the beginning of June, backdated, but what are freelancers supposed to do until then?

Those who earn very slightly more in employment than in self-employment in the last tax year are also ineligible.” Matt Salusbury, NUJ London Freelance Branch Chair, Deputy Editor, The Freelance

“It’s certainly more complex than the headline leads us to believe. I’ve seen a lot of people express concern that that due to starting freelancing recently or having time out for caring/illness that they will miss out on this package.

Some photographers will have high overheads for studio/office rent, equipment lease fees, insurances and software.” Dr Natasha Hirst, Photographer, Freelance Industrial Council  

NUJ statement here.

And from Caroline Norbury, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England:

“We are seeking urgent clarity for those creative workers who may be most in need and fall between these schemes including those who commenced self- employment after April 2019, recent graduates, those paid in dividends, temporary workers and those short-term contractors normally paid by PAYE. We must ensure that these packages are truly comprehensive and accessible to all.”

Lots of chat about this on Twitter – the main concern seems to be that nothing will be paid until June. What do people do until then? Can you apply for Universal Credit to tide you over? What if you’re above the savings threshold? Newly registered as self-employed? Or a contractor or a sole director/small limited company like me – and therefore not eligible? Not all sole directors are like Boris’ mates!

I asked my accountant Elaine Clark for advice and she sent me this post. Martin Lewis is on the case finding out about sole traders who are a Ltd company and whether they can get help through the Government package. In the meantime, let’s keep making noise on Twitter.

Send your questions/comments to @NUJOfficial @NUJ_LFB @Bectu @Creative_Fed @EquityUK @CarolineNorbury @TracyBrabinMP @IPSEWestminster @RishiSunak and tag me @niccitalbot.

It’s Friday. It’s spring – don’t forget the clocks go forward. Enjoy the sunshine and have a relaxing weekend.  

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

If you need a little help with your marketing activity in the coming weeks – get in touch today. Nicci@niccitalbot.com.

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Corona Diaries: Day 1 of Lockdown (Artist in Residence)

Day 1 of my ‘Artist in Residency’ – a nicer way of looking at it. Thanks to Sky Dylan-Robbins, Executive Director, Video Consortium, who said, “Despite the anxiety that today’s torrents of bad news may induce, there’s something to be said for taking a moment to breathe, reassess, and do something we haven’t had time to pursue.” Yes! Like announcing on Twitter that I’m going to be learning Italian over the next three months to show solidarity.

27 million people in the UK watched Boris’ historic speech last night enforcing a lockdown and telling us we must stay at home. Sound speech, clear messaging and tagline – “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” Note the wartime language: “In this fight, each and every one of us is directly enlisted. On the frontline. Beat the virus. An army of volunteers.” A bit belated, he’s clearly in anguish at having to take these measures, but they are necessary given that the UK saw its highest number of coronavirus deaths in one day, with 87 dying in 24 hours. I’m glad we’re finally joining the rest of Europe. 

Woke up at 6.30 am with the sun streaming through the window, dogs barking and birds singing. It’s not great timing, is it? We’ve been stuck indoors for months due to crap weather, and now, just as everything’s coming back to life, it looks like we’re going to be inside for another three months. Still, I’m not running a marathon on my balcony like that fabulous Frenchman – our restrictions aren’t that draconian.

1.18 pm: text from GOV.UK: “CORONAVIRUS ALERT. New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info & exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus. Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” 

Slight confusion about messaging. The fam all had the same text advising them to stay at home. ‘You may get additional advice on your health condition shortly’. My mum thought this was irresponsible “cos people will be led to believe they are on the 1.5 million list of at-risk people when the text appears to be a confirmation of government policy to the population as a whole. Loads of folk will be panicking for nowt!”

Friend texted in despair after spending 2.5 hours on hold trying to get through to the Universal Credit helpline for some advice. “There’s no other way to continue a claim than to call them. The system is going to stop loads from getting any help at all.” 

Working from home: everyone seems to be using Zoom for online meetings – positive feedback, it’s easy to use. £11.99 for small sessions of up to 100. There’s also a free option, which apparently ends calls after 40 minutes (sounds like an excellent productivity tool!). One of my clients (retail trade body) is digitising its platform for members so we’re exploring webinars, online conferencing, and a portal/forum as all physical events are on hold. Great to see lots of positive news/PR stories coming out about retail and how ‘self-isolation is changing our gifting style’, i.e. we’re buying more gift cards to help loved ones feel better. I’ve already bought three this month for birthdays and Mother’s Day. 

So, I’ll be working on a ‘sunny news blog’ for the retail/gifting world with positive stories. There’s also a free school meals initiative for coronavirus which involves gift cards, so lots of scope for retailers.

Funny how having a tight brief for a client or a ‘lockdown’ in this case helps with creativity – we have to work with what we have so there’s less room for procrastination. As Douglas R Hofstadter said, “I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity.”

Update on self-employment: 

Proposed amendment to the Coronavirus Bill: “Statutory Self-employment Pay”. If it’s accepted, it compels the government to introduce Regulations for freelancers: 80% of their monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years OR £2,197 per month, whichever is lower. Write to your MP to support this: ow.ly/53iz50yUow7 – more news on self-employment tomorrow.

5 pm: Had a jog to Bexhill. Seafront was full of joggers, dog walkers, and bikes… cycling is going to be huge this year. Older people are great at social distancing, but millennials don’t seem to have the hang of it yet and carry on walking straight towards you, so I had to do a bit of dodging. It’s nothing personal, but I don’t want to catch this, thanks. Popped into the Co-op on the way home for loo roll and eggs (max 15 people at a time, self-employed bouncer on the door). Empty shelves, which is no surprise, but now the wine shelf and fridges have been stripped bare too. It’s official: the UK’s holing up for three weeks. 

Why aren’t retail staff wearing masks? I’ve been in all the supermarkets, and none of the checkout staff or security are wearing them. The chaps in the corner shops are. This is madness given the number of people they are coming into contact with and the delivery drivers bringing in new stock. We should be looking after these people as well as our NHS staff: they’re on the ‘retail frontline’ after all, and they have to put up with the public all day long…

8 pm: Channel 4 News. The teen on group chat with her mates all night, trying to host a Netflix party. Few tech glitches so it didn’t work, but we’ll try again tonight. Great idea, Netflix!

Some positive news:

After tweeting Dr Mark Ali (Private Harley Street Clinic) to suggest he should offer free COVID-19 testing for frontline workers, I see there’s been a massive backlash about him profiteering from a national crisis. He’s now lost his contract with the supplier so no private testing on his website. Still, he’s made a packet in a few weeks – perhaps he could donate some to the NHS.  

ExCel Centre in London to be turned into coronavirus hospital for up to 4,000 patients

Coronavirus: Joe Wicks keeps children fit with online PE classes

Your NHS Needs You – NHS call for a volunteer army. Join the GoSAM App. 405,000 recruits in one day! I’ll make calls and write letters of hope. 

Free Minecraft education pack to help kids stuck in quarantine. Armchair travel to the international space station and the inside of the human eye. 

Coronavirus: Can Couples Meet up? Couples should test their strength of feeling over whether to isolate together is the official advice from England’s deputy chief medical officer. “Couples need to make a choice and stick with it.”  

Company gives away 100,000 free sex toys and gifts to women stuck in self-isolation

Prada: the latest fashion brand to make medical face masks. Great to see the big brands making medical face masks, hand sanitiser, and funding studies into coronavirus and immunity and intensive care units. 

Enjoy reading this?

Clear messaging (& tone of voice) is crucial at all times – not just during coronavirus!

If you need a little help with your marketing activity in the coming weeks – get in touch today. Nicci@niccitalbot.com.