How the PR & Communications industry is handling the Coronavirus crisis at work

As COVID-19 cases increase across the country, the PR & Communications industry in India is pulling out all stops to keep their workforce safe while ensuring that the show goes on

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Mar 19, 2020 8:08 PM  | 5 min read
Corona crisis

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought life as we know it to a grinding halt. Apart from global health, businesses have been hit. At this time of global crisis, the COVID-19 panic has caused an influx of information. This has created an urgent need for filtering the info and delivering the right kind of message through proper communication.

Corporate houses have been hit hard due to the novel coronavirus. In order to adapt to the situation, business houses have been resorting to various measures to keep the workflow on and to avoid more losses.

Rajesh Sikroria, Co-founder, Pontem Integrated & former President BBDO Advertising says, “No sector is untouched or unaffected by the crisis. Some sectors like travel, tourism, hospitality, malls and gyms are directly hit by the crisis. But then there are others which will feel the cascading effect. For communications industry, imagine the impact! Retail is practically shut, leisure consumption, impulse buying, all down. Some of the biggest spenders in the communication industry like retail, fashion, lifestyle, travel & tourism are down.”

The right kind of communication is organic and takes time to reach the audience. But the sheer information overload is causing the wrong, scaremongering ones to reach the public. At such times, communicators have to ensure the influx of verified messages to avoid distressing people.

Nikhil Dey, Vice Chair at Weber Shandwick points out that this is an unprecedented challenge on all fronts, including communications. “Every communicator has an even higher-than-normal obligation to truth, frequency of communication and the well-being of its people, clients and communities,” he emphasises.

Keeping in mind the various stakeholders of businesses, corporate houses are resorting to various means of communications to ensure that their assets in the form of the human workforce and their finances are managed without disruption.

Companies are leaving no stone unturned to ensure unaltered functioning of their businesses like concern marketing, assurance marketing and panic-relief marketing.

 “Monitoring news and filtering the fake from the real is the first need of the hour. As an industry we’re taking all precautionary measures, be it proactive quarantining, freeze on international travel, minimizing local travel, avoiding large gathering or social distancing,” informs Atul Sharma, VP, Public Relations Consultant Association of India (PRCAI) and MD Ruder Finn Asia.

“Member firms have been advising clients to take one-on-one meetings to digital platforms and postpone any events until the situation is under control. Additionally, they’re encouraging employees to work on productivity tools and platforms to ensure that everyone is connected, and the work happens seamlessly, as we provide the necessary support wherever required,” he adds.

PRCAI has also been working with member firms to ensure that clients are given necessary advice from a business and operations point of view to manage and handle the various crisis and communication needs in the era of COVID-19.

To ensure that the health of employees is not compromised, corporate houses are adopting various measures like work from home to ensure the safety of their employees. Sunil Seth, Head HR Business Partner- South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network says, “At DAN India, we have formed and activated a Management Incident team, which is part of our Business Contingency Plan framework, to meet every week and monitor the situation right from the time the first case was announced in India.”

 He further adds, “The team monitors the situation and keeps the government guidance as a minimum base to put necessary efforts to prevent the spread. As an immediate measure, at the initial stage itself we placed hand sanitisers across all our office entrances and meeting rooms. We also started sharing information on washing hands and basic dos and don’ts at such times.  A list of hospitals designated for testing of Coronavirus across all locations has been kept handy. It has also been circulated to the employees.  A travel advisory has been issued for people travelling for work / personal as per the guidelines from our global office and ministry of Health of India.”

Showing her concerns for employees, Kiran Ray Chaudhury, Co-Founder and Jt. Managing Director, 80 dB Communications informs that 80 dB has moved entirely to digital means of communication. “An internal tool Basecamp is used to monitor work in real-time. All team-members can monitor their ongoing work and their managers are therefore informed, to ensure that no committed tasks fall off the radar.  All client and vendor meetings are being conducted either on calls, Hangout or Zoom. Given the consultative nature of our business, moving all communication to digital mitigates/reduces service interruptions,” she says.

Nikhil Dey sums up the discussion: “The communication strategy has to start with our people and staying committed to the wellbeing of our workforce and communities.”

He urges everyone to be factual and truthful by relying on the latest information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local governmental authorities in the regions in which you operate.


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