HURRICANE SANDY AND THE MARATHON

Posted in Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Management Strategy, Crisis Management Success Stories, dealing with a natural disaster, DECISIONS IN A VACUUM, Doing the right thing, Hurricane Sandy, negative publicity, New York City Marathon, Poor crisis management on November 12th, 2012 by mnayor

One of the most evident communications failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy involved the ING New York City Marathon. Unquestionably the success of the Marathon paled in comparison to the misery heaped on New York (and New Jersey and Connecticut) residents who should of course have received and should continue to receive immediate and effective relief.

 

However, I cannot understand why the Marathon could not have been transformed into a major vehicle for focusing attention on and creating relief efforts for the residents of Staten Island, and The Rockaways, the areas ofNew Yorkthe most severely damaged.  I believe that the event could have been salvaged and made into something extraordinarily constructive instead of seemingly distractive and frivolous.

 

During the week of the storm Mayor Bloomberg kept announcing that theMarathonwould go on. He justified the decision by saying it would be good for New Yorkers. It  would bring the City together and lift everyone’s spirits. He also stated that no resources would be diverted from the relief effort. This comment, although true, was weak in light of the dozens of generators seen being transported toCentral Park  for the traditional pasta dinner, and the numerous port-a-potties being installed near the starting line. Granted these resources were private but it all seemed so selfish. This was crisis management and crisis communication at its worst.

 

What might have happened if the following had occurred? Mayor Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of the New York Road Runners (NYRR) jointly announced that theMarathonwas being renamed the Sandy Relief Marathon. The prize money was being donated immediately to the relief effort. The pasta dinner was cancelled and all generators and other private resources were being transferred to stricken areas. All port-a-potties were available immediately to the public. A telethon was being established for call-in donations during the race. All runners were being encouraged to donate their time in the coming days to support efforts. And so on.

 

The perception and the reality of theMarathonwould have been transformed into a humanitarian effort. That’s the way it should have been, instead of being billed as a cheer-leading, feel-good effort. Good crisis management in the Mayor’s Office and the NYRR was lacking. They had the time to make it happen but not the imagination or creativity. The resulting cancellation on the Friday before the event was a fiasco. An embarrassment for both the Mayor and the NYRR. The financial loss to the City is in the untold millions. The damage to the reputation to the event and the Road Runners organization remains to be seen. Certainly the thousands who travelled from abroad to participate now have a bitter taste in their mouths. The most common reaction was – We understand cancelling the event but why wait until Friday. If you had cancelled earlier in the week we could have saved the trip and our airfare.

 

We can only hope that nothing befalls the tri-state area again likeSandy, but if it does more intelligent and creative minds should grapple with a situation like theMarathonand utilize the notoriety of such an event to good and productive use. Obviously it is easier in hindsight to come up with ideas, but doing what’s right, sacrificing certain elements of an event and willingly taking two steps back in order to take one step forward would have burnished the image of the Marathon instead of tarnishing it. Trying to salvage an event in its entirety was and is perceived as putting yourself first. Placing the needs of those devastated bySandyfirst, and sacrificing some of theMarathon’s bells and whistles might have just garnered a lot more respect and kept a version of the race intact. Now NYRR has to renegotiate with product sponsors, ESPN and local affiliate WABC, and the participants themselves. It difficult to envision it coming out a true winner.

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SOME COMPANIES GET IT

Posted in Crisis Communication Success Stories, Crisis Management Success Stories on March 25th, 2010 by admin
I just received a new credit card in the mail. This is not unusual in itself but it is from my current credit card company – Bank of America, not one of my favorite institutions if truth be told. What is remarkable is that it is a card to replace my existing one that is not nearing expiration.
A very nice letter accompanied the card explaining that since BofA suspected that my card’s security had been compromised, they were cancelling it and substituting this new card. All terms and conditions remained the same.
Here is a company that determined a potential problem and did something about it. Proactive. It had to have cost them to do it. A cynic may say, yes, but it could have cost them more if they hadn’t done anything. True, but oftentimes it is difficult for an organization to bite the bullet, rather than wait it out. Taking no action can be kind of comfortable. So regardless of whether BofA took action that was for its own benefit, kudos for stepping up. But wait, there’s more.
Responsible action must be contagious within BofA. They just announced publicly that they would be forgiving the mortgage debt of some distressed borrowers. Could this actually be? Only time will tell but again BofA has gone on the offensive and is looking good. It would be a mistake if this is nothing more than a hollow PR gambit but time will tell. If it is, the bank takes a huge risk that they will look untruthful undermining its precarious public perception even more.
There have been a couple of other crisis management initiatives that have come to my attention that I think warrant applause. My own hometown was hit by a severe Nor’easter a couple of weeks ago. Trees were down everywhere. Many main and secondary roads were impassable (including mine – I couldn’t drive out of my street due to a fallen tree across the road). And over one-half of all homes in town were without electricity.
I’ve lived in the same house in the same town for over twenty years. Electric power delivery has always been dicey. Early on I lost electricity several times and finally, fed up, I wrote to the local newspaper complaining that I had moved from a third world country that had better electric power delivery than I was now receiving. Over the years some of the transformers and other gizmos have been updated and service has been acceptable, if not perfect. When the storm hit I shuddered to think what we were in for. But Connecticut Light & Power went to work. Crews were imported from other states. Every household was given updated Code Red alerts via the town’s emergency network, CL&P kept information flowing regularly and even went out on a limb and stated that 99% of the power would be restored by a certain date and hour. At the time, this forecast seemed far-fetched given the amount of damage and clean-up necessary just to get access to the wires. Yet, they did it! The company made an extraordinary effort, kept the public informed and, in my eyes at least, achieved a reputation as a first class public utility. I have only one suggestion. It would have been helpful for citizens to know what areas of town were scheduled for work on what days, and times, so homeowners could plan ahead, remove stuff from their freezers, get a hotel room etc. Barring that, nice job CL&P.
I received a rather personal letter from my cable company. Strange. I always get solicitations for the Triple Play – Internet, TV and telephone, but no, this was a kind of apology. The company thanked me for being a customer! They said they were sorry for inconveniencing me while they argued over programming fees with certain networks. They said they were sorry that there were interruptions in providing the Food Network, HGTV, and ABC (for the first 45 minutes of the Oscar presentations). Of course, they blamed everything on the greedy networks for trying to gauge the cable company instead of attempting to reduce costs, but hey, everyone has a different perspective. The thing is that the cable company tried to explain its side and did a credible job of it.
So congratulations to BofA, CL&P, and Cablevision for recognizing a crisis, handling it competently, and communicating to their respective stakeholders in a manner that has been straight-forward and not particularly self-serving, although self-serving communication, when deserved, is just fine.
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