First of all, why do we name hurricanes? It seems odd to give a natural disaster a personality. We don’t name blizzards, fires or earthquakes after all. But I digress.
YoungPRPros, the smart Yahoo Group with a sense of humor, had a post recently about how a member's company was being opportunistic around hurricane-related media relations. Evidently their product proves useful in the aftermath of these natural disasters. They wanted to donate some product solely to get editorial placements. Ugh. This person obviously did not want to do it and was asking for advice on how to gracefully squash the idea.
Unfortunately for me it brought back memories. One of my first jobs was with a pr firm working on the Iams Pet Food account. Iams is a great company, now owned by P&G. Iams used to sponsor an Iditarod sled dog racer and I had a blast securing him appearances on national TV.
Iams donated truckloads of pet food to Florida after Andrew did twice as much damage as Charley. Pets were homeless, scattered and separated from owners as I assume they are now. It was the right thing to do. It was all done for free and the food was distributed to humane societies across Florida.
We did a news release on the donation and I was the young, innocent, wide-eyed (read: stupid) flack doing follow up on the release. Yes, I called folks to ask if they got it. This practice is bad enough when you are conducting straightforward media relations. In this case it became a hard-earned lesson for me on what not to do.
During disasters, media in the affected areas are busy getting basic relief news to folks while they themselves rebuild like everyone else. You can imagine how I felt after several media understandably read me the riot act and told me they didn't have time for a company to toot its horn, they were busy helping people. Ugh.
Should a company memorialize the donation somehow? Sure. Post a brief release to your newsroom and move on.
Needless to say, I learned from it. Recently, a client found themselves in a similar situation during the California wildfires. The client's steel prototype home was in plain view of the fires. The homeowners even let firefighters use the home as an outpost to monitor the fires and refresh themselves.
We made a decision early on to do nothing to promote this. The media did ultimately do one or two stories on their own however.
So if you find yourself in a situation like this, what do you do? The right thing, which is usually little to nothing at all from a media relations standpoint.