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Posts Tagged ‘Hurricane Sandy’

AllState Didn’t Fully Cover Family Featured in Hurricane Sandy Ad

AllState InsuranceAllState insurance just released an ad touting the company’s Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and focusing on the supposed selflessness of its agents. The spot, titled “1,000 Thank You’s”, isn’t particularly subtle in its messaging—it’s called a “tribute to the 1,000 employees who put customers first” during the hurricane even when their own homes had been damaged.

Turns out the story is a little more complicated than that.

The problem? A Staten Island family whose home features prominently in the ad has some major gripes with AllState—and they’re not afraid to voice their issues in public. Customer Dominic Traina says he “got disgusted” after seeing the ad during Thanksgiving dinner because AllState only offered his family $10,000 for the damage depicted in the video after the jump.

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PR Fail: Did the Red Cross Double Your Sandy Donation?

American Red Cross Hurricane SandyThis week a LinkedIn editor’s personal story highlighted a significant and previously unreported problem with the American Red Cross’s uneven Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Due to a technical “issue”, the organization’s online payment system charged “an unknown number” of well-meaning supporters twice for the same donation.

While the Red Cross claims to be “working quickly to resolve the issues” that affected “a small number of donors”, its spokespeople have yet to release a statement despite reports of efforts to contact each affected individual.

We shouldn’t have to say it, but this is not the proper way to address a potential PR crisis–however isolated it may be.

The longstanding aid group has already received a good bit of mixed-at-best media attention for its “slow” response to the Hurricane Sandy crisis. Lest we forget, the American Red Cross is not a nonprofit organization, and headlines about “raking in $150M in the name of the storm” do not boost the public profiles of prominent charity brands like this one.

Of course, technical snafus are an unavoidable part of modern life. But we classify this story as a PR Fail because the Red Cross didn’t mention it until the post surfaced on LinkedIn this week—and its reps have yet to offer any specifics beyond a claim that the issue affected “fewer than 1 percent of donors.”

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Did Time Warner Turn Hurricane Sandy into Good PR?

Time Warner Cable New York City Hurricane Sandy is already old news to most Americans, but it’s still a big deal to thousands, if not millions, in the northeast. Some entities (like the MTA) managed to turn the storm into a PR win, and the much-hated Time Warner Cable now appears to be one of them.

It was a multi-step process: First Time Warner deployed mobile power stations around New York City in order to “allow people without power to charge up their phones, use our WiFi”, etc. Then its reps announced a plan to “automatically credit many” area customers who lost power during the storm, effectively paying them back for service they didn’t receive. Some customers whose accounts weren’t caught by Time Warner’s technical sweep may need to call the company in order to receive their credit, but the vast majority of accounts will be credited automatically.

This week brings more encouraging news: The cable giant and several other companies sponsored food trucks that continue to visit the storm’s hardest-hit areas, delivering free grub to those left without power and/or shelter. Selections include pizza, cheese steak and souvlaki–we approve of their taste in comfort food even more than their humanitarian efforts!

We’d love to hear more customer service stories. Has the company made good on its promises? Can a fickle public forgive Time Warner?

Mitt Romney and the Dangers of Automated Messaging

We can understand why the Romney/Ryan campaign might forget to cancel the obviously automated publication of its official victory website after Tuesday’s election. In this case, the team’s oversight inspired little more than snickering and/or sadness among observers. But it also serves as a useful example of the headaches that automated content, messages and responses can create for PR teams.

Automation can be a great tool, especially in the world of social media. But real-world circumstances change quickly, and a failure to re-align one’s messages in the moment can amount to a big PR fail. Let’s review some recent examples:

  • Progressive Insurance responded to a massive PR headache (taking a deceased client’s estate to court to contest benefits) by…sending out a series of automated responses on Twitter. There’s no better way to confirm your status as a heartless corporation than by responding to tragedy with robotic corporate messages. You can type “our heart goes out to…” all you want, but members of the public are surprisingly adept at calling out this sort of thing.

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Chris Matthews Apologizes for Friending Hurricane Sandy

This was, of course, an election filled with gaffes–and Chris Matthews (aka Tweety Bird) opened Hardball last night by apologizing (and apologizing, and apologizing) for saying he was “glad” that superstorm Sandy hit, thereby shedding light on Obama’s ability to lead in a crisis while crossing party lines and working constructively with Republicans like N.J. Governor Chris Christie. Matthews obviously wasn’t celebrating the fact that many lost their homes (and in some cases their lives) to the benefit of Obama’s campaign, but it was a dumb thing to say.

Matthews quickly realized that fact and began Wednesday’s show by saying, “I said something terrible…I said something not just stupid but wrong”. During his long-winded but genuine apology, he also refrained from blaming fatigue for his lapse in judgement: Read more

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.

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Social Media Guides Post-Sandy Volunteer Efforts

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s decision to cancel Sunday’s marathon after a few days of contentious debate left thousands of individuals with race plans and very low-body fat wondering what to do with themselves this weekend. What did these frustrated runners do? Many staged their own unofficial marathons–and quite a few simultaneously began organizing via social media to help the storm’s victims.

Twitter hash tags like #nycvolunteerathon and Facebook pages like “New York Runners in Support of Staten Island” earned thousands of followers in mere hours, providing information to help those interested in volunteering figure out where their efforts would be most effective. Other sites like the “Marathon of Relief” page also directed users to locations on the Internet and around the New York area where they could donate time, funds or goods to the recovery effort.

A revived Occupy also emerged after the storm with a new role: members of the movement created a spin-off group called Occupy Sandy that used its existing infrastructure to help raise funds and arrange volunteer shifts in areas of New York City that had been particularly hard hit by the storm.

In summary, the past week offered quite a few examples of people making the most of two less-than-ideal events: A huge storm and the cancellation of a major cultural event. The fact that they did it almost exclusively via social media–and that related feedback was overwhelmingly positive despite the countless headaches caused by the storm–is reason to feel a little better about the human race today.

Should NYC Postpone the Marathon? (UPDATED)

Today a battle wages on Twitter over what most would probably not consider a pressing issue: whether New York should proceed as planned with the ING New York City Marathon, currently scheduled for Sunday morning. The debate has turned bitter and divisive as pro and con camps make their cases.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others who think the race should happen argue that a postponement or cancellation would be devastating to the NYC-based businesses that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year thanks to the Marathon (this year’s race will include approximately 50,000 runners). Bloomberg pointed to the city’s quick rebound after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as an example of crisis recovery, saying, “The city is a city where we have to go on.”

Anti-marathoners essentially argue that the race, which is a massive undertaking, will divert crucial resources from the city’s Hurricane Sandy clean-up efforts–and that travel disruptions will depress participation rates anyway. Quite a few suggested that runners should boycott the race and volunteer to help Sandy survivors instead–and they’ve even set up a Facebook page.

The latest spat concerns the generators required for the race–and the power they could potentially provide to homes devastated by wind and flooding. Some have predictably turned the issue into a partisan bludgeon to use against Bloomberg, who broke character yesterday to formally endorse President Obama for re-election. Drudge Report deemed the headline “Bloomberg Diverts Critical Supplies from Sandy Aid to NYC Marathon” worthy of a siren, while the New York Post ran with “Abuse of Power”. Coincidence?

Another complication: The race starts in Staten Island, one of the areas hit hardest by the storm (at least 19 dead, many homes destroyed, thousands without power). Postponement advocates argue that starting the race there belittles SI residents, many of whom already feel ignored by city and federal authorities. Yet Bloomberg insisted that the race will go on, and today he doubled down on that promise.

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J.Crew Gets It Right

Everyone interested in how to execute proper messaging in the wake of a crisis or tragedy should pay attention to J.Crew. In the days leading up to the storm, the company sent out its usual email blasts touting the “winter’s brightest coats”, helping customers figure out “how to wear winter whites”, or enticing them with subject lines like “Tweed, please”. The company didn’t mention Sandy itself until today, when its message read:

Expressing concern for storm victims? Check. Explaining how the crisis will affect customers? Check. Avoiding any attempts at humor or blatantly exploiting the crisis for attention? Check.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Sandy Twitter Troll Outed and Shamed

To the unfortunate few who pay attention to online flame wars: the nightmare is over. ComfortablySmug–the Twitter “troll” who posted false messages during Hurricane Sandy claiming that Con Ed was about to shut off power to all of Manhattan and that the New York Stock Exchange had experienced severe flooding–has been named and shamed. Get ready for some huge surprises:

  • He lives in New York
  • He works in finance
  • He doubles as a political consultant
  • He has trouble maintaining serious long-term relationships

After a Buzzfeed post revealed the offender’s name, he disappeared, only to pop up again with what amounted to an apology combined with a press release promoting Christopher Wight, the Congressional candidate whose campaign he managed until his abrupt resignation this week:

Well, at least he doesn’t stray off-message. Once a flack, always a flack.

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