Communications teams are emerging as key players as companies work to deal with the effects of COVID-19, according to a new study from Peppercomm and the Institute for Public Relations.

“COVID-19: How Businesses are Handling the Crisis” surveyed 300 communications executives and senior leaders between March 5 and 10. The results show how deeply the effects of the crisis have already been felt on most companies’ bottom line. It also throws some light on how well companies are prepared to meet that crisis, and on what sources they are depending to help them chart a course through the situation.

Peppercomm & Institute for Public Relations Study - COVID-19: How Businesses Are Handling the Crisis

More than half of the survey respondents (53 percent) say that COVID-19 has had either a “moderate” or a “major” effect on the business operations of their companies.

Not surprisingly, there was also a great deal of apprehension about how the crisis will unfold. More than eight in 10 respondents said they were either moderately (51 percent) or extremely (32 percent) concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on their businesses, with just two percent saying they were “not at all concerned.”

But there was a significant degree of confidence as regards how well respondents thought that they were prepared to take on the situation. While more than half (55 percent) said they were “somewhat prepared” to handle COVID-19, nearly a third (32 percent) said they were “very prepared.” Only three percent said they were not prepared at all.

Respondents were equally positive when it came to how well they thought their communications staffs are prepared for handling the situation. More than four in 10 (41 percent) said that the communication function at their company was “very prepared” to tackle the crisis, with even more (46 percent) saying they were “somewhat prepared.”

In addition, most of those surveyed agreed that communications were a central part of their response to COVID-19, with 62 percent saying that the communication function has been a “very important” factor and 19 percent saying it was “important.”

A majority also thought that their communication plan was either “fully updated” (23 percent) or that they had made “good progress on updates” (32 percent). However, 10 percent of respondents said that their company did not have a crisis communication plan at all.

To get the information they need to put a communication plan together, the two top sources were such international groups as the World Health Organization and federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, which 71 percent of respondents said they trusted “a lot.”

Taking the bottom spot for dependability by a wide margin was social media, which only one percent of respondents said they had a lot of trust in as a source of COVID-19 information. And while mainstream media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times were only deemed highly trustworthy by 19 percent of respondents, they at least outranked such sources as political leaders (nine percent) and online health websites (eight percent).

To read the full report, click here.