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Coordinating PR efforts during a natural disaster

In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, our hearts go out to the many communities in Texas affected by the catastrophic rain and flooding. While live news streams play in the background of our daily activities, we know there are hubs of communications teams assembling throughout the state and country preparing their pitches, social media efforts and more. We have a job to do.

If your company or client has a story to tell, by all means, spread the word of the efforts they are undertaking to help their communities. Keep in mind, however, sensitivities in sharing photos of those being rescued or assisted. If the time is not appropriate to ask for a photo release, be mindful not to exploit those who might not want to see their faces in the news.

Remember that a reporter’s job is to cover the news, not your company or client. If the story you’re pitching can assist a journalist’s current reporting of the situation or—more importantly—the people affected by a natural disaster, that’s a win-win for everyone. Think evacuation updates, discounted offerings on emergency supplies or promotional offerings on goods or services that benefit the affected area, local charities or disaster relief organizations like FEMA and The Red Cross.

Too much follow-up during times of disaster reporting, however, can stain your reputation—even after the story and storm blow over and the regular news cycle returns. This is especially true of brands or companies that attempt to exploit a natural disaster to secure press coverage, acquire more social media followers or sell more products. Authenticity is paramount. If you’re not genuinely trying to help, the media and your customers will see right through you, and the recovery time from that disaster will be longer than the one you were trying to exploit.

The Red Fan team kept this top-of-mind when speaking to CNN, Mashable, The Daily Dot and others about Shofur’s efforts to evacuate more than 10,000 people ahead of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Use social media as a tool, not something you have to do. In times of disaster, social media feeds are filled with posts from individuals, news stations, disaster relief organizations and more; all of whom are posting important information. If your company isn’t posting news directly related to raising funds, collecting goods or assisting in disaster efforts—it may be best to stay silent to avoid cluttering news feeds. You can always be a disseminator of information and share posts with important information that your audiences can find resourceful, even if it has nothing to do with your brand directly.

If you are sharing your own imperative information, keep graphics simple. Make sure your design team is thinking with social media sharing in mind—make sure your company’s graphics are attention-grabbing and will stand out.

Don’t forget about internal communications. Your employees will want to know what’s going on and how they can help. Some may have family in the affected areas and might be more stressed than normal, so it’s important to be mindful of how they might be indirectly affected. Sending an internal memo outlining what your company is doing to assist, providing lists of resources or even just an update on the situation itself can go a long way. If your employees form a donation booth, go give blood together or take a day off to assist in disaster recovery, don’t be afraid to feature those heart-warming stories on social media. Make sure your employees know how to make a post public so they can share it with their followings.

Lastly, find the unsung heroes. As PR professionals, we know how to package up a story and who to send it to—especially in our local markets. I guarantee there’s a small business, CEO or local nonprofit doing extraordinary things right in your own backyard. And they might not have a PR team working to make their efforts known. If you have the opportunity to tell their story, take it.

Does your company have a compelling story to tell? We’d love to help.

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