Should brands comment on national or regional crises?

March 12, 2013 // By: // No Comments

Traditional Media     

As a media specialist, I’m always looking to tie our clients’ products to breaking news when appropriate. But when companies try to force-fit their brands into media coverage of major disasters and tragedies — such as Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown shootings — the results often aren’t pretty.

That’s why as marketing and PR pros, we need to advise our clients to think long and hard before attempting to insert their company or brand into the news cycle of any event that involves significant loss of human life or destruction of property.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: is your company donating essential products or services to help victims, their families or the public at large? If the answer is “no,” then enough said. If the answer is “yes,” then your company may decide to participate in relief efforts — but be sure to exercise caution and discretion.

Hurricane Sandy serves as a useful case study for companies and brands. Urban Outfitters and American Apparel were criticized for being insensitive by offering “sandysale” codes and free shipping during the storm. On the flip side, Duracell garnered extensive praise for providing charging stations to New Yorkers to power up their electronic devices. And Tide received kudos for its Loads of Hope program that provided free laundry service for those impacted by the hurricane.

For companies that choose to get involved in the aftermath of a major disaster or tragedy, it’s often a good idea to partner with a charitable organization and have your charitable partner take the lead on PR efforts.

Here’s as example: if a spokesperson from the American Red Cross praises your company’s worthwhile efforts on national TV, it comes across as more genuine and credible. But if these same messages are delivered by your company spokesperson, then your company may come across as self-serving or seeking to capitalize on the misfortune of others.

For companies that decide not to get involved in the aftermath of a disaster or tragedy, when is it appropriate to pitch media on stories unrelated to the news that’s been dominating the headlines? Here are three rules to remember:

1. You might just want to put your pitch on hold. If you were planning to reach out to a news outlet in an area that’s been heavily impacted, be respectful and postpone your pitch. Not doing so demonstrates poor taste and insensitivity — and you run the risk of burning bridges.

2. Monitor the news. Once the story no longer appears on the front page of the local newspaper or the lead story on the evening news, it’s a strong indicator that it’s OK to reach out.

3. Tap into social media channels, especially Twitter. They are excellent resources to measure the extent to which a major news story is still dominating the headlines. Check the Twitter feeds of the media contacts you’re planning to pitch to see what they’re posting and covering that day.

About the Author

Sandy Bustamante

Sandy Bustamante works in Hunter PR’s national media relations department and oversees much of the print and broadcast outreach on behalf of our clients.