PR Rises Above

Public Relations takes center stage during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. It changed everything from sports to education to politics to healthcare. Even the film industry got interrupted by the virus’ viral effects.

One industry that rose above the hindrances of the Coronavirus was public relations.

Public relations, to put it briefly, is a mutually beneficial relationship between an organization and the public. The virus has given the field of public relations a considerable-sized piece of meat to chew on with the new uprising of corporate social responsibility.

Now that America has mostly reopened commerce, many have had the opportunity to eat inside of a chain restaurant or walk through a clothing store at a shopping mall. On the doors of shops, tables of restaurants and websites of businesses of all sorts, you will see the routine messages telling customers to “wear your mask,” “wash your hands” and “socially distance from others.”

These places aren’t telling you those messages for the first time. I think I can speak for most of us when I say, we get it.

Signs will also read “for the safety and health of our customers, employees and community…”

It is undoubtedly true that the virus poses a great threat to us, but will a sign from Madewell change somebody’s mind when they decide not to wash their hands? Are any of these messages doing anything?

While I believe that these businesses do truly have safety and public health concerns in their best interest, they are mainly driven by corporate social responsibility. Company policies will change according to CDC guidelines, but why is Old Navy sending me virtual hugs when they never gave me real hugs to begin with?

As a corporation or organization, you need to show that you “care”. On the topic of COVID-19, “caring” means telling the public to wash their hands and use best practices (why anyone wasn’t washing their hands before is beyond me).

If a crisis outbreak were to take place within one of these establishments, then it would leave a bad mark on their reputation. Take the recent college campus outbreaks for example.

The University of Alabama and the University of North Carolina recently had major outbreaks among students that left a negative stain on their public image as people now refer to their students as “inconsiderate,” “irresponsible” and “party animals.”

Here at Waynesburg University, a smaller institution, we had our dormitory visitation hours for the opposite gender reduced by one hour on the weekdays, and two hours on the weekends. How this adjustment is going to hinder any spread of the virus, I do not know. In most cases, this is a simple cry yelling “we’re trying our best!” to show their public that the university is tying up any loose ends to keep things as safe as possible without going totally remote.

Let’s say that an outbreak were to occur on Waynesburg University’s campus. How would the public see the university, knowing that they didn’t change any policies or make any efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus? The image of Waynesburg University would be tarnished, as if they disregarded student health.

In reality, these rules and regulations, from the understandable policies to the unnecessary constraints, are to show the level of effort an institution has put into combating a public health issue, just as much as they are protecting the health of the students on campus or the customers in a store. Like all actions in public relations, they are meant to be mutually beneficial, as you are granting your customers’ safety while you maintain a safe and proactive reputation.