Is it appropriate to use natural disasters for PR campaigns? Never. A tweet today from Stuart Elliot of The New York Times reminded me of my blog post, “When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up,” which I wrote last year. It’s about when it might be appropriate to use tragedy for PR campaigns. The answer is virtually never.
Elliot’s tweet reminds us that even business as usual is too soon for those who are still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Sandy.
We need to remember that journalists are people too. They might be stuck at home dealing with flooded basements, children out of school, no power, and loved ones to worry about. They may also be dealing with looming deadlines in the midst of this chaos, or they might be switching beats to pitch in to cover the storm itself. Many of those journalists are in New York City and PR pitches about superfluous issues will at best go unnoticed. At worst, they will be met with harsh criticism for callousness.
And as I said last year of natural disasters, unless you are organizing a benefit concert and donating ALL of the proceeds to the Red Cross, or you’re an emergency worker who’s on the scene helping to save lives or rebuild, leave it alone. We have plentiful, recent examples from the earthquakes in New Zealand, Haiti & Japan, and tornadoes here in the U.S. that have devastated entire regions and countries.
The best stories from natural disasters spring up organically about communities pulling together. The best we can do as PR people is to help spread the word of those stories and help propagate the unusual and amazing acts of kindness that follow great tragedy. We’ve spent countless hours building up our social channels, so let’s use them to help spread the good. I will be watching and tweeting.