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3 Marketing Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

By Colin Ryan

Industry News, Guides & Tips

What marketers can learn from the recent storm

The Northeast is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Record flooding and high winds have left millions stranded or without power, and resulted in at least 62 deaths in the U.S. alone.

While Hurricane Sandy has demonstrated the incredible value of technology in emergency situations, it has also shown that we have a lot to learn about dealing natural disasters and other major events. That goes not just for government agencies and first responders, but also for people who must continue to do business. Here are a few tips for how your company can weather a storm like Sandy and come out strong on the other side.

Have a disaster backup plan.

In addition to physical devastation, Sandy has created major interruptions not just for consumers trying to access the web, but also for companies trying to conduct business on the web.

Whether you’re without Internet or without a website, you need a backup plan, not just for the next “frankenstorm,” but also for the unexpected. After all, most of the major service interruptions in the last year were due not to a hurricane, but to issues at web hosts like GoDaddy and Amazon. That means having a backlog of blog content in the hopper and using a CMS with a smartphone app (e.g. WordPress) you can use to post it. It also means having a custom 503 “site down” page to greet anyone who tries to access your site while it’s down.

Exercise caution with “newsjacking” content.

Events like Hurricane Sandy present an opportunity for marketers to reach a wider audience by latching onto a big, national news story. This practice is called “newsjacking,” and it’s not always looked upon kindly.

Some of the biggest PR disasters in the last few years have been the result of a brand capitalizing on major news in a way that paints them as opportunistic and unsympathetic. American Apparel has come under fire for their “Hurricane Sandy sale,” while Kenneth Cole faced a backlash on Twitter last year when he tried to newsjack the Egyptian revolution to market his spring collection.

If you’re considering engaging a developing news story, use good judgment. Some events are just off limits, either because of their gravity or because of your industry or niche. (Imagine, for instance, if Glock had decided to use the Aurora shooting to market their new line of handguns.) If you decide your content is appropriate, be sure you have your facts straight, and that you’re approaching the subject with sensitivity to how it is affecting people. This goes double if you’re watching events unfold from a distance.

Don’t be afraid to change your messaging to suit the context.

Of course, if the news is as serious as Hurricane Sandy, your marketing probably shouldn’t be business as usual, either. At best, your efforts will be overlooked; at worst, people could interpret you ignoring the events and providing your usual content as a sign that you don’t care.

Instead, be sure to acknowledge what’s happening and offer your sympathies. More than that, though, offer real support by giving away your valuable expertise. Provide content that either helps the people affected deal with the challenges they’re facing, or provides real strategies for avoiding or mitigating those challenges in the future. Real estate agents, for instance, might consider blogging about what steps homeowners should take to minimize and repair flood damage in a way that will help them preserve the value of their home.

So the next time the country is caught up in a major event or news story, ask yourself: are you prepared?

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