Businesses Unprepared For COVID-19 Crisis

Nearly half of communication executives surveyed do not account for an infectious disease outbreak in their crisis planning, according to a study.

While most businesses have been trying their best to prepare for crisis scenarios, something like COVID-19 is unprecedented. Some 30% said their organization was “very” prepared for COVID-19, while 55% said they were “somewhat” prepared. However, almost half (44%) said their crisis communications plan did not specifically address an infectious disease outbreak. Meanwhile, 10% of respondents did not have a crisis communications plan at all.

COVID-19: How Businesses Are Handling The Crisis” was conducted by Peppercomm and the Institute for Public Relations. The global study surveyed 300 communications executives and senior leaders from March 5-10.



The two companies will hold a free webinar Friday to discuss findings.

To give context to the survey, as of March 11, more than 120,000 people had been infected with COVID-19 around the world, with more than 4,600 deaths, and the World Health Organization updated the virus' classification from an epidemic to a pandemic.

More than half of respondents (53%) said COVID-19 has had a “moderate” or “major” impact on their business operations, and 83% are “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about the potential impact of the virus on their companies, suggesting the virus and its effects are not going away any time soon.

Business leaders are leaning into their communication function as an essential resource to help them deal with COVID-19. More than three-quarters (81%) of respondents said the communication function is “important” or “very important” to their company’s response. 

Communicating to employees was an “essential” or “high” priority for 81% of respondents, especially about operational changes and sanitation practices. Noted internal communication channels included internal platforms, mobile apps and hotlines.

The most trusted sources for information about COVID-19 were federal agencies (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and international health agencies (World Health Organization), with nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) noting they trusted these organizations “a lot.” On the flip side, most respondents had “not much” or no trust in country leaders (56%) and social media (81%).

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