The short version:
Disasters are an opportunity to prove to our stakeholders, customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders that we are who we claim to be in our fancy mission and values statements. Not an external opportunity for PR or marketing or branding, but an internal opportunity to have our community say with great pride, love, and passion, “Look what my company is doing!”
The long version:
Notice how companies have all these bravado mission statements, cause cultures, and promises to be great stewards of the environment and the souls of humanity?
Notice how few of them demonstrate these claims when the opportunity to do so is laid at their feet by Mother Nature or man-made maladies?
I have had a front-row seat to this for the last two weeks since the Lahaina, Maui disaster.
As of today, 114 lives are recorded lost, with 850 more missing. Even if the death toll does not officially rise, it is the largest death caused by a fire in the U.S. in the last 100 years. Just like Paradise, California, an entire town of 11,000 full-time residents turned to ash in a matter of hours. There was no warning. Nothing like this has ever happened in Maui. We could never imagine something like this happening.
Lahaina is a unique town. The average income of its residents is $30,000 a year. Nearly everyone works in tourism, as 40,000 tourists a day would come through this town. It is the primary economic engine for all of Maui. And since Maui is a small island, there is not much population and housing to absorb these traumatized souls, many of whom ran for their lives.
My front-row seat is in Lanai, 10 miles away across the channel. Lanai is a different island. Lahaina is our port of call. It is where we go to find services, groceries, medical care, and shopping. Lanai relies totally on Lahaina for workers, supplies, transportation, etc.
Here is what I noticed right here in Hawaii. Local Hawaiian companies went right on advertising as though nothing had happened. Newscasters joked around about other news. Products and services were hyped and pitched and put on special as though the marketing departments were totally disconnected from current events.
I watched a 5-minute ad for the Hawaii National Guard where the members were joking and acting foolishly to show the National Guard as fun and casual when hundreds of them had just been deployed to the war zone of Lahaina.
No one incorporated into their ads the plight of Maui. No one changed the tone to empathy and sadness. No one even tagged fundraising to sales. I was gob smacked.
To be fair, this is not the actual spirit of Hawaii. The locals from all islands have been the number-one source of funds, food, supplies, volunteers, housing, and comfort, far outweighing anything from the government.
One local Foundation, The Hawaiian Community Foundation, has already raised over $50 Million for the cause.
But I have not seen any of those companies recognized for their generosity, empathy, and awareness.
The missing seems to be that U.S. companies' marketing and advertising arms are somehow on autopilot and not connected to what is happening in the world. They are not on ready alert to pivot ads, internal communications, fundraising, and altering their communications to reflect the mood of the moment.
Here is the opportunity. We say we have these certain laudable values, yet we fail to have a keen eye out for opportunities to prove it.
Disasters are opportunities for us to prove who we are. They are opportunities for us to demonstrate to those people who trust us that we have integrity, that we mean what we say, and that we walk our talk.
I am not speaking about PR for the sake of the marketplace. These are not opportunities for marketing, branding, or PR. Those often deservedly backfire with their disingenuous nature.
I am talking about our employees. Our customers. Our suppliers. Our shareholders. All our stakeholders. I am talking about internal community pride, love, and passion for our company, mission, and culture. I am talking about an opportunity to have every stakeholder declare, “Wow, look at what my company is doing!”
Company pride, loyalty, trust, and love are fleeting feelings in Corporate America today. Shareholders trade us on a rumor. Employees troll LinkedIn endlessly, looking for a better offer. Suppliers are always looking for an edge. Customers are always looking to save a dime.
We must earn our stripes at every opportunity, and disasters, as deadly and depressing as they are, are a golden opportunity for us to help people. Help people we don’t know. Help people who are not our customers. Help people in towns we may never visit. Help people because somewhere in our corporate culture, we claim that is who we are. So, prove it.
Here is a strategy.
- Review your corporate vision, mission, and values. Make sure they are an authentic reflection of your truth.
- Create a set of SOPs and budgets triggered by various forms and levels of foreign and domestic disasters.
- Train the marketing and other departments to execute with speed and precision.
- Avoid using good deeds as marketing or PR in the public domain. They don’t care and often just interpret that your motives are material.
- Do market your good deeds powerfully deep into your stakeholders, teaching them to trust that you are who you say you are.