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Corporate Responses to COVID-19: Who Did Well and Who Didn’t?

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

By Dana Berry


The coronavirus pandemic has taken over the world, and whether companies were ready or not, they had to adapt. For public relations students, it was a huge learning opportunity. We got to witness some of the greatest and most disappointing corporate responses of our lifetimes. Corporate social responsibility has never been more prominent of a factor in a company’s success than it has this year. That’s why it’s important to look back at some of the best and worst PR efforts of 2020. Here’s a breakdown:



Nike is known for being a trailblazer when it comes to corporate social responsibility. And when it comes to COVID-19, the company sure has stepped up to the plate. Launching its #playinside campaign was an ingenious way to make itself part of the conversation by encouraging its followers to do the right thing and stay inside. Additionally, Nike has donated multiple millions of dollars to relief efforts and created protective gear for health care workers in Oregon.


While there were many companies that altered their efforts to help others in the fight against COVID-19, L’Oréal did so in a big way. The company produced hundreds of tons of hand sanitizer to be delivered free of charge to hospitals and pharmacies around the country.


From giving paid sick leave to all of its workers to giving $340 million in free ads to small businesses, Google has been paving the way for the tech industry. The company is halting misinformation on the web and banning ads from individuals seeking to take advantage of the pandemic. On top of that, it created an app to help people track the virus’s spread. Google has been both bold and innovative, making it a leader in the fight against COVID-19.


Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby’s initial response to COVID-19 was a slap in the face to its employees. CEO David Green claimed the craft store was an essential business, despite public scrutiny. He claimed his wife was visited by God in a “vision” and told that the stores should remain open. It’s safe to say it won’t be winning any awards for sensitivity this year.

Smithfield Foods

Smithfield Foods was just one of many meat-packing companies that missed the boat during the pandemic. It came out that meat-packing companies were warned over a dozen years ago that a pandemic was coming, which would lead to food shortages, and that they needed to prepare. Because Smithfield Foods did not prepare, it had to shut down factories because they had outbreaks. This company did not look after its own workers or the consumers who could be directly impacted by its lack of caution.

We can all agree that there have been plenty of good and plenty of bad responses to this pandemic. These are just five of the many examples. Through watching brands tackle the pandemic, we have learned that showing empathy and acting creatively can save companies. COVID-19 has taught PR students around the nation about crisis communications, and these lessons will be carried with us into our future careers.

Dana is a senior public relations major and the president of UA’s chapter of PRSSA. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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