Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, several organizations and leaders have fallen into the media’s spotlight for positive initiatives and unfortunate missteps.
This inspired me to reach out to Humber College’s Office of Applied Research & Innovation (ARI), who agreed to fund a new research project to document these responses. Together with Nikita Ravi and Robert Van Horne, we launched COVID19Communications.ca.
COVID19Communications.ca documents organizational responses to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The case studies provide open educational resources for students in business, PR, marketing, and communications classes for Fall 2020, and beyond.
Based on this research, our team concluded three main suggestions for companies handling a crisis as big as the COVID-19 pandemic:
1) Always have an up-to-date action plan.
Having an up-to-date action plan is crucial for organizations when experiencing a sudden crisis. This helps companies to have a framework for a response plan, know what the next steps are, and focus on the goal and/or mission at hand. This helps organizations stay on message and keep their efforts in line with its values.
2) Just because you are not part of the problem, doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution.
Many companies decided to shift focus during the pandemic, repurposing materials, labor, and workspace to help communities. This is crucial for organizations that have the means to make a difference in their communities. Shifting an organization’s operations is not about a “PR stunt” to create a facade to the public; it is about supporting the communities that have contributed to its success, the very communities that house its employees and customer base.
3) Working with your competitors can be crucial to building public trust in a sector.
There is plenty of time for healthy competition and set an organization apart from its competitors. A crisis as large as a pandemic is not that time. There are unique needs each community faces, but there are also nationwide struggles that affect all people. There is a power in numbers and a positive message of camaraderie, between organizations, that grow public trust in a sector. While each organization has its own reputation and relationship with the public, the sector itself can benefit from competitors pooling resources and sharing a message of hope. Collaborating on fundraising efforts and joint corporate citizenship can reflect positively on all who lend their platform and voice to the same cause.
Audrey Wubbenhorst is a professor and board director at Humber College. She leads Covid19Communications.ca as a Principal Investigator and teaches public relations and corporate communications. She has received several research grants to study the impact of social media on business. Wubbenhorst hired two research assistants, Nikita Ravi and Robert Van Horne, to help bring Covid19Communications.ca to life and to give her students valuable experience within the communications sector.
Nikita Ravi is a student entering her third year in the Public Relations Advanced Diploma program at Humber College. Prior to enrolling at Humber College, Nikita studied biology at Laurentian University.
Robert Van Horne is also entering his third year in the Public Relations Advanced Diploma program at Humber College. Robert returned to school as a mature student following a ten-year career as an event planner with the Pegasus Hospitality Group.
COVID19Communications.ca documents organizational responses to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Its mission is to create open educational resources (OERs) that are available for educators and students to study in the coming years. This project is funded by Humber College Applied Research and Innovation (ARI).