Looking back on crises and responses in the midst of the pandemic

by | Jun 11, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

The last fifteen months have been difficult around the globe due to the pandemic. When the World Health Organization first announced that the virus has spread to multiple countries, many of them announced the closing down of locations where people tend to gather in crowds.

Brands and corporations at the time were struggling to find ways to continue operating in the midst of a difficult time for everyone. The solutions included reducing the number of staff members or having employees work from home. However, these weren’t deemed as potential solutions for industries that require workers to be physically present at their jobs.

That includes industries like the meat supply industry, such as the company Tyson Foods, which found itself in several difficult PR situations due to the failure of empathy, transparency, and safety in a number of its communications and safety efforts.

Digging into Tyson’s COVID crisis

Many believe the PR crisis for Tyson Foods started when the supplier published a full-page ad in April in the New York Times, stating that the supply chain was breaking. Not only that, but the company was actually trying to make a case for its plants to stay open during the pandemic so that the company would be able to feed families across the United States.

However, the PR crisis for the meat supplier actually began when reports surfaced that, at the beginning of the pandemic, workers weren’t provided any PPE, nor any information on whether they should be coming into work while sick. The two situations separately wouldn’t have harmed the reputation of the corporation too much, on the surface. However, both of them happening around the same time meant that the public only understood that Tyson Foods didn’t care for its workers’ safety or health.

Crisis escalation ensues

A couple of months later United States officials announced an investigation into the meat supplier due to a large amount of exported pork to China, despite raising the alarm on pork in the US. Not only that, but the officials would also be investigating the allegations on worker safety during the pandemic. The latter announcement made things even worse for the corporation, because at the end of the year, several allegations emerged about managers at a Tyson Foods plant, creating a betting pool on how many of the employees would become ill of the virus.

That investigation ultimately ended up in the meat supplier terminating the positions of seven different managers at the same plant. Additionally, US officials also found out that the corporation wasn’t protecting its own workers in the midst of the pandemic, and didn’t employ any essential systems, procedures, investments, or communications to make employees protect their safety or health.

The number of negative situations for Tyson Foods was increasing throughout the year, which led to the company damaging its reputation, as well as its relationship with its employees at various levels. This resulted in a clear lesson for other corporations to understand the importance of consistent communication, empathy, caring for safety and health during difficult times, and generally putting employees first.

Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian founded 5WPR, a leading PR agency..