We've all seen the incredible images of devastation coming out of Houston this week. Amidst all this destruction and flooding, I am reminded of what Mr. Rogers used to say when something scary or bad is happening, "look for the helpers."
And, in Houston, one need not look far to find them. Individual citizens have banded together from all over Texas and Louisiana, arriving by truck and boat to help carry the stranded to safety. Meanwhile, churches and non-profits have opened their doors and their wallets to house and feed the displaced.
But, some helpers take a more corporate form. When tragedies like this strike, companies and brands often want to help out. In fact, corporate America has donated more than $40 million to help Houston residents so far.
While the inclination to help is admirable, it can be a challenge to provide corporate assistance without coming off as self-serving. The trick is to ensure the help you offer is genuinely needed and is not done for the sake of publicity, but rather for the good of simply doing good. And, of course, if your assistance can tie back to your brand's promise or your product's uses, all the better. If not, then you may opt to donate money versus product or company time.
Here are some terrific ways big brands are chipping in:
Anheuser-Busch — A branch of Anheuser-Busch in Georgia has stopped producing beer to manufacture cans of clean water to send to areas that have been affected by the storm.
Since the storm, the company has already delivered over 155,000 cans to communities whose water supply have been severely impacted. The cans were sent from Georgia to the American Red Cross in Baton Rouge and Arlington, Texas where they will be distributed.
This is a great example of a company putting people ahead of profits and providing a much needed service that directly speaks to the company's brand and products.
Coca-Cola — Similarly, The Coca-Cola Foundation has pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross and they are matching employee donations, up to $100,000, to the Coca-Cola Employee Disaster Relief Fund, which will go to company associates affected by the storm. The Coca-Cola system has also donated nearly 25,000 cases of water, milk, sports drinks and other beverages to people in the affected areas. The company said it expects to donate more in the coming days.
The Home Depot — In addition to sending materials to Houston in advance of Harvey's landfall so communities and businesses could board up and secure their properties, The Home Depot Foundation pledged $1 million to support Hurricane Harvey disaster relief efforts.
Given that the entire city of Houston and most surrounding areas are completely flooded, the clean-up will be a massive undertaking and the materials and money donated will be absolutely necessary to rebuild. So, this is another great example of providing genuine assistance that fits the corporate brand's promise.
Walgreens — Walgreens has committed $200,000 to the American Red Cross, and the company will enable customers to donate at its stores. Walgreens has also donated food items, first aid and medical equipment, including blood pressure cuffs, glucometer strips, catheters and transport wheelchairs to the American Red Cross' emergency shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
The company is also partnering with United Airlines to transport items from Chicago to Houston. In fact, it was just announced this morning, that Walgreens is likewise sending teams to the area to refill needed prescriptions for the residents who've fled their homes.
Wal-Mart — Wal-Mart and the company's foundation will provide cash and product donations of at least $1 million to organizations helping with relief, such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Convoy of Hope.
Amazon and Whole Foods Market — Amazon and Whole Foods Market will match up to $1 million in donations made to the American Red Cross via Amazon. The website includes a link to make a donation as well as one to send essential items from the Red Cross' wish list.
Caterpillar — The Caterpillar Foundation is giving $300,000 to the American Red Cross. The company has also started sending power generation equipment from other parts of the country and begun staging equipment in anticipation of clean-up efforts.
On a more local level, Gallery Furniture has transformed two of its Houston-area stores into shelters.
Founder Jim McIngvale tweeted photos (right) of people lounging on couches and children playing on mattresses that were pushed together.
And, there are many more examples of big brands and local businesses helping Houston residents (literally) weather this storm.
If you do want to get your company or brand involved, here are a few quick tips:
Do not issue a press release announcing your company's donation or support unless your help requires direct instructions for the community. (A good example of that would be Gallery Furniture making the announcement that affected residents can camp out in their stores.) But, if you issue a press release simply for the sake of publicity, you could face backlash for capitalizing on a tragedy.
Do not overtly make the connection between your assistance and your brand promise. If the connection is clear (i.e. The Home Depot providing building supplies or Walgreens providing prescription refills), people will see it for themselves. If you highlight that connection yourself, your good works could come off as a self-serving stunt.
Reschedule planned social media posts. This is something that can often be overlooked during a national tragedy. But, an ill-timed social media post - even if it was written far in advance of the event - can create a minor social media crisis for your brand. The moment a national crisis event occurs, advise your social media community managers to cancel all planned promoted posts, especially any content that can be misconstrued in the wake of current events.
Do not pitch relevant products to reporters until after the crisis has passed. This is an important one because sometimes a tragic event like the flooding in Houston can actually help demonstrate the benefits of your product. For example, we have several clients who offer relevant products and services, including portable battery power. And, although that product absolutely ties to these events, any media pitching we do while people are still fighting to survive will be seen as crass co-opting of a crisis. That said, once the waters recede and the rebuilding begins, there is nothing wrong with demonstrating the value of your product during clean-up, restoration or for future emergency preparedness. As with most things in life, timing here is everything.
Let me know if you have any questions about how and when your company or brand should provide corporate social giving to those who need it.