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Effective communication management in a public health crisis: lessons learned about COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of health communication executives

Taylor S. Voges (Department of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA)
Yan Jin (Department of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA)
LaShonda L. Eaddy (Department of Advertising and Public Relations, Pennsylvania State University, Malvern, Pennsylvania, USA)
Shelley Spector (The Museum of Public Relations, New York, New York, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 2 February 2023

Issue publication date: 16 March 2023

686

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of the study is to provide insights on the COVID-19 pandemic communication from the lessons learned by health communication executives—how they perceived the COVID-19 pandemic and recommend preparing for communication management of future public health crises.

Design/methodology/approach

A number of top health communication executives in the United States, who worked in the healthcare industry for at least 25 years and held titles like director, president and chief strategist, were interviewed for their unique perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic. This study used the contingency theory of strategic conflict management for qualitative deductive analysis of the following segmentations of key factors that drove organizational communication management decision making during the pandemic: organization characteristics, relationship characteristics, general external climate, external publics and the issue under question.

Findings

Health communication executives heavily relied on their past health communication experiences, which led to nuanced understandings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Practically, the health communication executives urged future practitioners to constantly assess risks, hire and use diverse and representative decision-makers; set a communication protocol; and keep the communication in perspective. Theoretically, the contingency theory is furthered—there appears to be a theoretical linkage between the construct of general external climate and the construct of the external public.

Originality/value

The unique perspectives of top health communication executives, based in the United States, provided in-depth insights on the COVID-19 pandemic—its nuances, challenges and main influences (e.g. political, racial, etc.). These takeaways and recommendations can be adapted by other organizations and future health communicators in other parts of the world.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Funding: This study is funded by the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication.

Citation

Voges, T.S., Jin, Y., Eaddy, L.L. and Spector, S. (2023), "Effective communication management in a public health crisis: lessons learned about COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of health communication executives", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 64-83. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-12-2021-0137

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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