PR during pandemic: How the coronavirus is affecting companies’ public relations efforts

By Anna Gilstrap 

With over 350,000 COVID-19 cases and 10,000 deaths in the United States alone, most states issuing shelter-in-place orders, and social distancing becoming our new normal, it’s safe to say the coronavirus pandemic has impacted everyone in some way. 

Businesses are no exception. Those deemed nonessential have been forced to close their doors and adapt their ways of existing in order to survive. We at PRSSA have decided to explore what these changes look like from a public relations perspective. Here are some trends of what PR looks like during the pandemic:

Addressing the issue

The most notable change in PR efforts is also the most obvious: brands are talking about the coronavirus. Angles and approaches vary, but no one is ignoring the elephant in the room. 

From Amazon to Burger King to American Eagle, companies all across the spectrum are being forced to say something. Ignoring the glaring problem society currently faces would appear ignorant, even if the goal was to give people a break from the bombardment of bad news. 

Encouraging social responsibility 

One tactic we’ve seen from brands is the promotion of CDC recommendations and other prominent health organizations to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

For example, Nike tweeted “play inside, play for the world” encouraging people to stay home. McDonald’s posted a graphic illustrating how to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with the help of their iconic “I’m lovin’ it” jingle. These companies among others are aligning themselves with responsible social behaviors related to the illness. 

Giving back 

Many businesses have made philanthropy a central part of their PR during this difficult time, donating resources to help in the fight against the virus. 

Corporate giants like Facebook, Apple and Amazon have donated millions of dollars to various causes related to COVID-19: research, supporting local small businesses, supplying healthcare workers with medical supplies and personal protective equipment.    

Financial support isn’t the only kind of support being offered. For instance, acclaimed fashion designer and “Project Runway” host Christian Siriano pledged to sew masks for healthcare workers in New York City to combat the severe supply shortage the city is facing; he and his team have so far made upwards of 5,000 masks. 

Solidarity with consumers

Some brands are following the sage bit of “High School Musical” wisdom that says “we’re all in this together,” letting consumers know they care and are here for them. 

ESPN most notably took this approach in their “We miss it, too” campaign. With the cancellation of the NBA and March Madness tournament, the Masters being rescheduled and the Olympics postponed until 2021, ESPN stood alongside fans saying they miss sports too.

Embracing change 

Along with the seismic public health effects, the coronavirus has caused a number of changes to daily routines. For instance, Zoom is now a part of many people’s educational and professional vocabulary and takeout is the only option for eating out at a restaurant.  

Brands like The Ryman, a legendary Nashville concert venue, and our very own University of Georgia have leveraged Zoom for their PR efforts by creating backgrounds for people to use on their Zoom calls.  

As for going out to eat, popular delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash are waiving delivery fees to encourage people to order from restaurants and boost business while they have to remain closed to dine-in customers. 

Have you seen any interesting brand PR efforts relating to COVID-19 during your time in quarantine? Let us know!