What can your business do during disaster?

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and some major fails by companies like Gap and American Apparel who tried to capitalize off of the natural disaster with promotions and pushing people to do some online shopping, I felt like a post was in order. So if you you’re kinda confused on what direction to take with your brand and marketing when the world/nation/state/community/what-have-you is facing disastrous/devastating events, here are some things to consider.

Humanize your brand and show some consideration! This is one of those “duh” things. I’m sure that you as a person are concerned with the terrible happenings, so show that concern through your brand. In this day in age, people are responding to brands that are humanized, so what better way than connect on a basic human level, than to show concern about human issues. Even if you have a start up and can’t afford to make huge donations, encourage others to do so through a national, non-profit like American Red Cross. Don’t feel comfortable with encouraging donations? Push out any other helpful information that you may come across. For example, in the case of a hurricane, tweet/post/etc any shelters that you’re aware of. If you can’t afford monetary donations, but you can afford to donate some of whatever your product or service is, then that works just as well. For example, if you own a bakery, consider sending treats to victims in shelters.

Make your products or services that benefit victims of the devastating event more accessible. For example, in the case of Gap and American Apparel, they could have simply adjusted their website categorization/rules so that items like rain boots and rain coats with free express shipping (shipping, given the circumstances may be unrealistic or nonsensical, but this is just an example) appeared at the top of the pages. There’s a difference between being helpful and being pushy, insensitive and ‘salesy.’

Connect with the community. If you are a small business owner in a place that gets affected by a disastrous event, use social media as a way to connect with your community and to let them know you feel the impact of the event as well. Encourage camaraderie and support at the local level. If you have a larger business with just one presence per social media platform, consider taking the time to connect to the community that houses your headquarters. Another thing that larger companies can do is to reach out to their employees at different locations and have them all submit images and words of encouragement specific to various areas, then the national social media platforms can show personal attention to each of those communities. 

Be engaging. Ask people to tell you their stories. Show genuine interest. During disasters, everyone is impacted in one way or another. Give people the opportunity to share their stories by using social media as a way to listen. When using social media in these instances, have your social media managers leave their names in the posts so the public knows exactly who they’re talking to. Maybe even consider making a video and sharing what the folks at your company are experiencing due to the disaster and then follow with encouraging words and a note that your company is there to listen and help.

I get it, you have a business, annnd when it’s possible to capitalize, you’d like to. Just don’t make that the driving force behind your actions for your brand during a catastrophic event. A simple picture of someone working on behalf of your brand can go a long way to draw positive attention and maybe even get some good press. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook offer excellent platforms to post compelling images, and could eventually lead to a viral success.The bottom line is give your brand a heart. Snap a few pics of you doing something good in the midst of disaster, share it, and encourage others to do the same. And don’t forget that the lives and wellbeing of human beings are at stake. So make your brand sincere, and make it human,

I’ve discussed the importance of establishing a cause for your brand. But you must also know how to adapt and make your brand at the very least sensitive to devastating events. Did you find this helpful? How does your brand handle catastrophic events?


Do corporate leaders forfeit freedom of speech?

The controversial buzz around Chic-fil-A’s president Dan Cathy publicly expressing that the company supports traditional marriage (as opposed to same-sex marriage) has not had the chance to die out before yet another corporate big-wig has spoken out on a controversial issue. Papa John’s founder and CEO, John Schnatter, has spoken out about his non-support of the recent health care policy (widely known as Obamacare) signed into effect by President Obama. According to Politico, while on a conference call Schnatter stated:

“We’re not supportive of Obamacare, like most businesses in our industry. But our business model and unit economics are about as ideal as you can get for a food company to absorb Obamacare.”

Schnatter estimated that the price of Papa John’s pizza would increase by about 11 to 14 cent.  The result has been a negative response among people who either A) feel like “Papa” John has plenty of money that he should be able to absorb the cost without raising prices, or B) feel like by being non-supportive of the bill, “Papa” cares more about his shareholders than the health of his employees.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues that Cathy and Schnatter spoke out about, my question is should men or women who hold prominent roles in companies that offer public goods and services to the masses make comments regarding political, religious or any other type of heavily-debated or controversial issues?

What do I think?

I think that it’s unfortunate that once people reach a certain level of power, fame, or what have you, that they lose the ability to freely express themselves on all issues. However, it’s just so happens to be a trade-off for the perks that come with that success and power, especially when that power comes largely from the masses supporting your company or brand with their hard-earned money.

The bottom line is that those in positions of high influence should not speak on controversial (aka political, religious, etc) issues and not expect their PR department to have to put out the fire of all fires for their company. I especially think that it is just negligent from the standpoint of a businessman to make such comments on behalf of the company. There’s a quote that says people won’t always remember exactly what you said, but they’ll remember how made them feel. People must remember this about themselves and executives HAVE to remember this when it comes to their brands. When you (and consequently, your company) leave a bad taste in the public’s mouth, it can be hard to get it out, no matter how much of that PR mouthwash you try to shove down their throats.


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