Public Relations After a Tragedy

With every disaster comes opportunity. Last week Hurricane Sandy brought disaster, tragedy and heartache–along with the opportunity to help others while displaying compassion and courage. When people are in need, most feel that others should do something if capable. This applies not just to human beings and communities but also to brands and companies.

People always remember their times of struggle and grief–especially the people (or corporations) that helped them or exploited them.   From a public relations standpoint, Walmart and Pepsi have handled this particular crisis well by donating supplies that range from cleaning supplies, cereal and board games to snacks, breakfast bars and soda. Check out a full list of their donations.

Savvy public relations experts know that implementing a corporate response to disasters requires a deft touch so that efforts are seen as being helpful and sincere rather than opportunistic or exploitative. When the victims of Hurricane Sandy were suddenly and violently rendered without food, comfort or shelter, the fact that they received a Gatorade from Pepsi or disinfectant wipes from Walmart could create a strong bond with both the products and brand.

It’s an example of that classic business expression “win-win” because Pepsi and Walmart were able to provide help to those who needed it. The fact that it is also good business is simply a bonus: brand loyal customers will return the help with their patronage (the ultimate achievement in the PR industry).

Of course, the exact opposite behavior results in equally opposite public relations. Brands and companies that are portrayed as being indifferent, insensitive or greedy can experience a debilitating public relations failure that could last a long time. For example, New York’s attorney general is currently reviewing potential instances of price gouging among providers of vital commodities like gasoline, hotel rooms and bottled water. Exploiting local resource shortages for short-term gain? That’s bad PR.

There is no greater public relations disaster greater than a moral failure.

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