COVID-19: Three communications responses (Part I)

June 8, 2020

Norihito Atari
Dentsu Public Relations


It is by now clear that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be felt in all aspects of our lives for some time to come. But how can organizations respond to this new normal through the medium of PR and communications? This is the first in a series of articles examining this topic from various perspectives.

Though for many the term “crisis communications” may primarily evoke images of corporate scandal, this field is also of crucial importance during periods of emergency such as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. And as fears surrounding the “three Cs” laid out by the Japanese authorities—closed spaces, crowding, and close-contact settings—have spelled cancellation for numerous events and product launches, many businesses have been looking for answers when it comes to the kind of activities they ought to pursue amid the national mood of jishuku or “self-restraint.”

In this piece, we will look at the results of a survey of domestic firms conducted by Dentsu PR’s internal think tank the Corporate Communication Strategic Studies Institute (CSI) and consider appropriate strategic measures as the situation continues to unfold.


Early communications priorities

Since the onset of the pandemic, the CSI has delivered two separate online questionnaires to PR, crisis management, and other related personnel with firms from our extensive database of past survey respondents, and participants in past CSI seminars and events. Conducted in the periods February 28–March 6 and April 10–17, the two surveys received 195 respondents and 170 respondents respectively.

The graph below compiles the results of the second questionnaire, which inquired about communications topics that businesses saw as key areas for consideration over the coming month. Respondents were able to select any number of answers.



Let us first consider what insights can be derived from the top two responses.


  1. Preparing emergency statements, etc. in case of infection among employees
    (130 responses, 76.9%)
    This indicates that, as the likelihood of infection among employees continued to build, PR and risk management personnel responded by focusing on the preparation of appropriate external communications. When faced with the risk of potentially damaging rumors and fake news regarding your organization, it becomes especially important to clearly emphasize measures taken to protect the health and safety of staff.
  2. Support for employees’ mental wellbeing amid ongoing operational disruption
    (118 responses, 68.9%)
    For some, the nature of their work means it simply cannot be conducted from home. The resulting fears for job security are one of the many stresses that employees will currently be under, making it especially important that companies respond to assuage such concerns and provide comprehensive support for staff wellbeing.


Three key strategic lessons

Based on our survey results, we have identified three key strategic communications responses, which will be examined in greater depth in part II of this article.


  1. Internal communications attuned to the concerns of employees
    In these uncertain times, characterized by stress and fears over job security among the workforce, top management must respond with warmth and empathy, and messaging that addresses employees’ concerns.
  2. Corporate messaging that works with the practical limitations of the present moment
    Despite the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, businesses cannot simply cease their messaging activities. But when exploring alternative approaches, such as online press conferences in place of physical ones, the content and delivery of one’s message must be carefully adapted to fit the new medium.
  3. An emphasis on social contribution through CSR/SDGs
    As the pandemic brings calls for a shift towards a more sustainable society, businesses’ social contributions are increasingly in the spotlight. Those unable to effectively showcase such activities may fall behind same-sector rivals in terms of their ESG branding, with ramifications for financing, and even revenues.


About the author


Photo: Norihito Atari, Corporate Communication Strategic Studies Institute (CSI), Dentsu Public RelationsNorihito Atari
Dentsu Public Relations
Director, Corporate Communications Division
Corporate Communication Strategic Studies Institute (CSI)
Specialist in communications surveys, providing interview training, message development, and other quantitative research-based corporate communications support in the field of issue management to clients in sectors including infrastructure, manufacturing, BtoC business, and both national and local government.


This article was adapted from original Japanese content published by Dentsu-Ho, May 15, 2020 (view original article)
Read part two in this series here

Banner image by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash
All other images ©️Dentsu Public Relations



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