Diana Marszalek 18 Mar 2020 // 5:35AM GMT
NEW YORK — As the coronavirus crisis sends business reeling, communicators are emerging as key players in formulating companies’ responses to the pandemic, according to research from the Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm.
The survey of 300 comms leaders found 81% of comms functions are “important” or “very important” to their companies’ handling of the COVID-19 crisis, which includes steps businesses are taking to fight the disease and the surrounding panic.
They are also tasked with distributing that information both inside and outside the company walls, the survey found.
75% of respondents said their comms function was “very involved” in communicating internally, versus 58% said they were “very involved” externally. That is in keeping with another survey finding: 81% of communications leaders see employees as a top priority, spurring moves from increased communications to improved sanitation and health practices.
Despite the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus outbreak, more than half of respondents had some insight into managing a health crisis, as 57% said their crisis communications plan specifically covers an infectious disease outbreak.
Nonetheless, most companies were not truly prepared for a crisis of this magnitude. Only 30% of survey participants said their organization was “very” prepared for COVID-19, while 55% said they were “somewhat” prepared; 41% said their communications function was “very” prepared while 46% said they were “somewhat” prepared. Another 3% said their organization or communication group was “not prepared at all.”
When it comes to getting information, communicators are relying on experts from health organizations such as the World Health Organizations and individual countries’ federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Health Service. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said those sorts of agencies are their most trusted source of information.
National leaders like presidents and prime ministers, however, ranked among the least credible sources of information, with 56% of respondents saying they had little or no trust in them. 81% felt that way about social media.
The IPR/Peppercomm report is the latest in a spate of studies looking at how business is responding to the coronavirus, particularly when it comes to communications — all of which point to an increased onus on business to step up as leaders, particularly around employees needs and concerns, at this time of crisis.
A G&S Business Communications study, for instance, explored the expectations Americans have of their employers, including allowing employees to work from home, sharing coronavirus policies and even shutting down operations. Most say they are satisfied with how corporations are responding to the outbreak — nearly three-quarters of Americans, 74%.
They also expect transparency. 46% of Americans say their perception of a company would not change if one of its employees had coronavirus. However, 72% would have a more negative perception of a company if it did not disclose to the public that an employee has coronavirus.
Some companies are communicating with employees more often than others, but most employed Americans are satisfied with the level of communications they are currently receiving from their employer, the survey of 1,009 adults found.
On Monday, Edelman released a special Trust Barometer report that also found people turning to employers for credible information on the coronavirus. 63% of respondents said that they believe coronavirus information provided by their employers after seeing it once or twice, versus a government website (58%), a health company website (56%), traditional media (51%) and social media (28%).