Lessons from hurricane Sandy on how to rise to the challenge.

By Amber Hudson and Luke Sklar

After Hurricane Sandy slammed the tri-state area, the news reports and images I’ve seen uncovered not only the horrible devastation, but acts of incredible kindness as well as flagrant ignorance:

Let’s have a round of applause for….

  • The many restaurants that fired up generators/gas ovens to cook food for hungry residents
  • Starbucks offering free Wi-Fi
  • Tide offering free laundry service on mobile trucks with washers and driers (ingenious!)
  • Duracell setting up charging stations, allowing people to charge their vital communication devices
  • The countless stories about hospital staff, rescue crews and average people stepping up to help strangers

Boo, hiss (throw tomatoes)…

  • Gap used  #Sandy Twitter to promote online shopping and asked customers to check into Foursquare using “Frankenstorm Apocalypse – Hurricane Sandy”
  • American Apparel targeted customers in the storm zone with the offer “In case you’re bored during the storm:  20% off everything for the next 36 hours”

We have no intention of undermining the destruction that occurred.  But looking at what happened uncovers some marketing lessons for when your brand is about to be hit by a crisis.  There are uncontrollable events that affect every business plan.  Will you be ready to rise to the challenge?

  1. Have a contingency budget:   to either get yourself out of the flood, or in your genuine, on-strategy way capitalize on an opportunity.
  2. Establish a ‘war room’ process:  have the smartest people to define the task and prevent spin.  Learn from your past mistakes, FEMA did.
  3. Hope is not a strategy:  Hurricane Irene threatened the east coast and fizzled into nothing.  As a result many east-coasters were complacent, ignoring the Sandy evacuation advice.  Don’t let this recency affect cloud your ability to act fast.  Have your ‘weather forecasters’ alert you when the storm is coming.  If you’re 70% sure it’s going to hit, take it seriously and do something (ahem, Blockbuster).  Hoping “it won’t happen this time” isn’t a good strategy.
  4. When dealing with a crisis, bring out your inner Bloomberg:  throughout the crisis Mayor Bloomberg was humble, calm, fact-based, drama-free.  He course corrected when he needed to do the right thing (sorry marathoners).  He personified brand greatness.
  5. Yes, you can turn a challenge into an opportunity:  Luke’s father used to own a store.  When it rained he would put the umbrellas out front.  Like Tide and Duracell, he was meeting an honest need.  Find ways for your brand to live its purpose through helping your customers.