How PR Can Respond to the Coronavirus Outbreak

The global coronavirus emergency has disrupted the operations of travel industry companies, as well as any brand with international operations. Higher education institutions that enroll Chinese students are under the pump, and many global businesses have closed their outlets in China. Airlines have been forced to suspend flights to and from China, while those with signs of infection or even exposure are being quarantined all over the world.

At the same time, social media has endured the rampant spread of fear and misinformation. While formal institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are quick to release information to the public, a seemingly endless list of disreputable sources have been proliferating false and misleading statistics about the source, spread and impact of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, businesses from a range of industries are feeling the pressure to communicate vital healthcare and travel information. As with any other emergency, it is vital that messages to the public are frequent, transparent, and accurate. Here are five ways businesses can stay on the right side of history amid the coronavirus outbreak:

  1. Put the emphasis on employee safety

Even as the coronavirus outbreak drags on, it remains important to keep tabs on employee travel plans. Remote and telecommuting work arrangements should be put on the table where appropriate. Employee safety must be a priority, or risk facing a backlash later.

  • Counter fake news

The 21st century is an era of fake news and information overload. This means it is more important than ever that companies reposition themselves as a credible source of information that their staff, customers and stakeholders can rely on.

  • Know the facts

The Ebola outbreak set several public relations standards during a global health emergency. As with the current coronavirus outbreak, health experts at the beginning of the Ebola pandemic knew very little about the disease and how it spread, leading to early predictions by political leaders that either overinflated or understated the risk posed by Ebola.

In the same way, politicians were quick to issue unrealistically-positive public statements when coronavirus first began to spread. Even today, there are many gaps in public knowledge due to the unreliability of information shared by the Chinese government. Businesses should be wary of putting their neck out on information they do not know is true.

  • Push CSR

Now is the time for firms to increase their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities by contributing to social causes. Several brands, for example, have donated millions of dollars to Red Cross operations on the ground in China.

  • Training is key

Businesses must take on some responsibility for training employees in strategies for risk prevention, such as frequent and thorough hand-washing. At the same time, training to help staff identify misleading information online will help keep corporate communications as accurate as possible. Coronavirus aside, these are good habits for any workplace.

The bottom line is that COVID-19, the latest coronavirus, has become an issue for both public health and public relations. Businesses should be careful to follow the recommendations of recognized institutions, protect employees, and make thoughtful business decisions moving forward.