Disaster only ever happens to someone else …
At least, that’s what we tell ourselves subconsciously … because if we let the fear of disaster dominate our thoughts, we’d be unable to function productively, if at all.
So, from time to time, when a disaster happens to someone else, we implement a contingency plan … in case we’ll need it one day.
Then, years roll uneventfully by and the plan disappears in the digital archives.
Until one night …
When an EF 3 tornado rips a raw gash across the land for 60-plus miles … turning a buzzing metropolis and its peaceful suburbs into a war-like zone.
People left suddenly homeless.
25 lives lost.
Power and communication out for days.
Travel all but impossible.
And suddenly that disaster hasn’t just happened to others … it’s happened to you, your family, your company or your business.
A terrible virus makes the uncommon leap from animal to human … mutates … and then sweeps across the globe like an unstoppable wave …
Shutting down whole countries (like Italy).
Disrupting supply chains.
Emptying store shelves.
Even though we have the best intentions, most of us aren’t prepared, from a business perspective, for a disaster … be in natural, manmade, viral, or bacterial.
Lost and wasted money …
Lost and wasted opportunities …
Or maybe even worse.
I know first-hand because I’ve seen and experienced it all over the last 40 years.
Earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, snowstorms, horrific events, terrorism.
SARS, MERS … and now COVID-19.
All of it distract people’s attention from your message and offer … and from buying in general …
And all of it destroys digital, TV, radio, and direct mail campaigns.
I’ll admit that the first few disasters CDMG endured in our early years took their toll. We weren’t as prepared as we could or should have been. But experience is a harsh motivator.
So, when the EF 3 tornado touched down in Nashville in the early hours of March 3, 2020 – just two blocks away from our office in Germantown – we were as stunned as everyone else affected.
But we were prepared for the fall out …
Not only did our business continue operations (albeit not as normal, see step #5), but we were able to help with recovery efforts as well. And we continue to work with the communities affected to repair the damage and make #NashvilleStrong again.
That’s why, today, I want you to refresh your disaster strategy.
Consider all the possibilities, regardless of how uncomfortable they make you feel.
Implement plans and technology that will ensure your business doesn’t become a casualty of the next disaster.
Here are eight steps to include:
Step #1: Be Proactive.
When considering your direct mail, TV/radio, email, and digital marketing during a terrible event, think about the extent of the disaster.
Is it nationwide?
Then suspend your marketing and wait …
Responses will dry up in the aftermath and recovery.
Don’t waste your money.
During a manageable regional or state/local disaster (for example, a class 1 or 2 hurricane … or an EF 1 or 2 tornado), the USPS diverts mail from affected zip codes to nearby processing and distribution facilities and is held for later delivery.
And your prospects in the impacted area won’t be paying attention to your electronic or digital ads.
In a catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina, Nashville’s March 3 tornadoes, or a terrorist attack – and now the Coronavirus pandemic – you may be faced with many days, weeks, or even months that go by before direct mail service resumes or prospects start responding to ads.
Step #2: Eliminate Wasteful Spending on Direct Mail.
Natural or man-made disasters will almost certainly depress response to your direct mail.
For direct mail, it’s essential to watch the news and use the USPS resource on weather updates (click here) so you can make an informed decision on mailing areas and printing counts.
Be prepared to move quickly to edit printing counts and adjust mailing areas by eliminating mail in the impacted areas.
If you decide to avoid mailing, use the resource from USPS mentioned above to identify affected areas, then eliminate those zip codes during your merge-purge.
Step #3: Suspend or Reduce Digital Advertising in Affected Areas.
The same principle applies to your digital ads … a disaster will certainly suppress response.
On all digital media – Google, Facebook, etc. – suspend all marketing in affected areas, or at the very least, dramatically reduce spending.
This also applies to TV/radio – simply suppress those areas in your campaign.
Step #4: Watch and Listen.
I recommend that my clients wait two to three weeks after the emergency is over before remailing into affected areas.
For some events, it might be 24 to 48 hours. For example, the shooting in Las Vegas had the highest impact on responses (lowering them significantly) for the first 24 hours after the event. Within three days, results were back to normal.
On the other hand, while still early days, the Nashville tornadoes will likely depress responses for several weeks as recovery and rebuilding takes place.
And there’s no telling how long the Coronavirus will impact response rates.
Be prepared for dampened response to ripple through surrounding areas.
For example, after the shooting at the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, all of Texas saw a two-day change in response.
Even if the incident doesn’t affect your prospects directly, the news may still affect them. Your mailing piece, emails, or landing page will be the last thing on their minds.
Evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis.
Step #5: Prepare Your Infrastructure Before a Disaster.
Thankfully, there are a few things you can do before disaster strikes to protect your business and infrastructure.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Make sure your business has a solid business continuity plan in the event of a catastrophe or natural disaster.
Keep a simple, effective channel of communication open with all staff. Text messages is a good start because sometimes access to email might be limited.
Ensure you networks are set up so that staff can work remotely, with no (or limited) disruption, for the duration of the quarantine (in the case of something like Coronavirus) or recovery (like after the tornadoes).
And equip staff with laptops so they can continue to operate regardless of their location.
Such a plan has helped us to keep the business going in Nashville after the tornadoes as the beginning of March.
We immediately began a group text chat in which we kept everyone up to date on the status of the office, the well being of all the staff, and other administrative stuff.
In fact, for the first week after the tornadoes struck Nashville, we intensified our communication with staff and clients to alleviate concerns and avoid roadblocks.
This plan has allowed us to help our community, and any team members impacted by the storm … because we were able to give staff time and space to handle personal issues, including volunteering, while still delivering the highest quality service to our clients.
Step #6: Have a Backup Plan for Your Call Center.
If you take orders over the phone, be prepared. Have a customer service back-up plan.
After the San Diego wildfires in the early 2000’s, Real Health Laboratories closed its home offices, call center, and fulfillment center for 36 hours. As a result, product shipments were delayed for about two days – complicated by the fact that the company had just mailed a catalog the week before.
And have a back-up call center to handle calls and orders from customers and business associates.
After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans clothier Orient Expressed survived largely because it immediately re-routed phone calls to Signius, a back-up phone service. The company continued to take orders and phone calls and explained delays to customers.
Step #7: Map the “Points of Failure” of Your Business or Marketing Plan.
Analyze your customer processes from beginning to end to map out areas where a disaster could disrupt your business.
For example, keep your emergency contact list and procedures up to date and review them regularly so you’re always prepared for any disruptions.
Step #8: Consider Donating to Victims of the Disaster.
If your business is donating:
1) Tell your customers that a portion of their sales is going to help the victims …
2) And offer a matching donation.
Besides actively volunteering in the clean up after the Nashville tornadoes, we are also offering financial support via Samaritan’s Purse. If you too would like to help folks affected, simply click on this link.
Unfortunately, we can’t control mother nature or crazy people.
But armed with an action plan, you can ensure you don’t waste money and that your business survives … no matter what the situation.
And set a recurring reminder in your calendar to refresh your disaster strategy every three months.
Mark my words: there will be another disaster.
In fact, the next one is already rolling over us like a slow red tide. The Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on economies, markets – whole countries! – already … and this is only the start of the pandemic.
Only, next time, you’ll be ready to keep your operations going AND help your community in the aftermath.