Page Center working with Museum of PR to chronicle industry’s COVID-19 response
June 30, 2021
The Museum of Public Relations announced a major effort to document the PR industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in partnership with the Page Center, the Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations, the PR Council, and the Grady College at the University of Georgia. The initiative is modeled on a longstanding New York Historical Society program to preserve history as it happens.
Under the banner “History Responds: Communications in the Time of COVID,” the PR Museum and its partners are putting out a call for objects and paper/digital materials that document the PR industry’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, both within their own organizations and in the counsel they gave clients.
“The Museum of Public Relations was founded on the belief that PR practitioners can learn from the past, both from its mistakes and from its successes,” said the PR Museum’s co-founder Shelley Spector. “In keeping with that belief, we plan to compile and curate the first in a series of collections documenting how public relations practitioners at agencies, businesses, and other institutions respond to the major societal crises of our time.”
The museum’s initial collection will deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. “While we all hope it will be generations before the world faces a pandemic of similar scale,” Spector said, “we believe lessons learned in recent months will have application in other crises, such as cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, runs on financial institutions, and other widespread disruptions to daily life.”
An advisory council of senior public relations practitioners and academics will curate the donations received. The most telling and insightful material will be preserved in a multimedia repository future scholars, students, and practitioners can consult. The museum also expects its COVID-19 collection to be the basis for future conferences, papers, and exhibits on best practices in serving employees, clients, and consumers during widespread crises.
“We’re asking for items—no matter how modest or mundane—that tell how PR organizations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Spector said.
Among the items the museum is looking for are:
- Research that helped shape COVID planning
- PR counsel offered to internal or external clients
- Employee communications addressed to team members
- Marketing communications directly related to the pandemic, e.g., about product shortages, new offers, or advising customers on alternatives to in-person service.
- Artifacts such as branded masks and social-distancing signage created to address the pandemic’s impact on key publics, promote safe behavior, and facilitate vaccination.
Global communications firm Edelman and United Airlines have already joined as Founding Contributors.
“The communications industry was best suited to help business navigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic of Covid-19, economic insecurity, financial and health inequities and systemic racism,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of the eponymous communications firm. “The work done over the past year was some of the most important and innovative work the industry has ever produced. We helped business take the lead and lead with purpose.” Indeed, the Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that businesses emerged from the pandemic as the world’s most trusted institutions as well as the most ethical and competent.
“The impact of COVID-19 created the most disruptive crisis in the history of commercial aviation,” said Josh Earnest, United’s senior vice president and chief communications officer. “At United, we moved quickly to confront the reality about the depth of this crisis and leveled with our customers and employees about what was required to keep the airline flying and the traveling public safe. We also sought opportunities to help fight the pandemic by flying tons of medical supplies to COVID-19 hotspots, transporting the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. from Europe and repatriating tens of thousands of Americans stranded overseas.”
“Companies are used to dealing with crises, but seldom one that affects all of our stakeholders so profoundly in similar ways at the same time," said Roger Bolton, Page Center board member and president of the Page Society, which counts nearly 800 global strategic communication leaders in its membership. “Chief communication officers were at the center of helping their companies and institutions respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that saved lives and addressed mental health and wellness issues. They also helped lead a strengthened commitment to stakeholder capitalism and societal value creation.” In fact, recent research shows that more than two-thirds of the public expects businesses to address societal issues hyper-partisan politicians can’t resolve.
To learn more about History Responds: Communications in a Time of COVID and how to donate material, visit https://www.prmuseum.org/historyresponds. Contact Spector with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.