The Many Faces of Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene

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Here in the NYC area, we’ve just come through Hurricane Irene. I hope you and your loved ones are okay and rebounding from her wrath.

Depending on where you live, you may have experienced flooding, power loss or other damage to your home. You may have been one of thousands that were evacuated. Hopefully you or no one you know was bodily injured.

Irene’s impact on me personally was near minimal. (Here’s a timelapse of the hurricane from my front yard to prove the point; yes, the soundtrack is meant to be sarcastic – thanks, R.E.M.!)

But drive five minutes from my house and there are folks without power, trees fallen into houses, businesses shut down, and traffic lights out.

It’s made me step back to take stock of something we can often lose sight of: that although we may seem very closely connected by geography, social circles, experiences, family and economic circumstances or personal interests, our individual realities are often dramatically different. Times like these just highlight the fact.

Translate that to our daily (read: mundane) lives, and we see how important it is to walk in others’ shoes on a regular basis, especially when trying to connect and build bridges with others. This is extraordinarily true for us PR folk, who are supposed specialists in connecting via messaging with others.

Our PR campaigns must be designed to connect and inform rather than sell. Our social media messaging must engage rather than preach. We must solicit feedback and respond when things don’t go the way we plan, and demonstrate care and compassion for the people we are trying to reach.

You can’t expect people to respond to your message if it’s off kilter with what your targeted audience is experiencing. If the people you are trying to reach are trying to get the power back on in their homes this week, sending them an email about patio furniture isn’t going to move their needle.

But changing your message to fit their needs just might, and bring in new business you never had before. So if instead of trying to sell patio furniture to people with no lights in their homes, you could instead run a (well-advertised) sale and offer 10% off patio furniture to customers who bring in their Hurricane Irene-damaged patio umbrella (It’s an easy thing to throw in the back of the car, and easy to toss in the dumpster behind the store). Now you’re generating new business. And you’ve got cusomters in your store, where they just might also buy something else. And they weren’t even thinking about buying a new patio umbrella this year.

Irene was a nasty hurricane for some; an over-hyped rain event for others. Remember her when you’re putting together your next outreach. She just might teach us something more than how to hunker down in a storm.

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