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Communication in a Crisis: How PR Can Help


Starbucks decided to close 2,000 of its stores in China due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The virus has infected and killed thousands of people in China. NPR reported local government officials had two main focuses as they worked to contain the virus:

  • They wanted to take care of the health and well-being of their partners and consumers.

  • They wanted to support local health officials and government leaders


Many restaurants and stores in the country followed Starbuck’s example, closing their doors as well including McDonalds, Apple and KFC. Soon after, Royal Caribbean and MSC cruise lines also decided to cancel trips departing from China. Many airlines have stopped flights going to and from the country as well.


In the face of a crisis, it is important for public relations professionals to respond quickly. Because we live in a world with constant news coverage, Crisis communication can happen anywhere and at any time.


When the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States, we were blindsided; nobody was expecting the virus to have this great of an impact. In this instance, it would have benefited the country if health officials had a plan in place; but now that the virus is present, and panic is increasing and businesses are closing temporarily, a plan should be set in place for what comes next so the right message can be given to the public.


It is the PR practitioner’s duty to ensure the right information and message is disseminated to the right audience. He or she should focus on capturing the attention of the people being affected by the crisis and his or her actions. One message that may need to be heard is that temporarily closing these businesses is to assure that employees and customers are taken care of and their well-being is a top priority.



An article on PR week discusses how brands should communicate with consumers during a crisis. “During times of crisis or complexity, strong company culture and a defined sense of brand purpose can be invaluable in helping a brand navigate these types of decisions. Communications tactics should be shaped around the priorities of the business and its stakeholders. But, it’s essential to be mindful of how those priorities align with a company’s brand identity and values.”


Public relations personnel helps organizations by introducing their values and mission to the appropriate audience. Public relations personnel strive at creating positive images for other companies. It is never easy dealing with a crisis, especially a pandemic like the coronavirus. To help reduce the stress, proper planning and preparation needs to be considered when dealing with any crisis.


Kara Martin is a junior from Anderson University, majoring in public relations and criminal justice. Martin is an associate with Fifth Street Communications®, a student-run public relations agency at Anderson University.

fsc@anderson.edu | Anderson University (IN)

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