Two PR Strategies for Dealing With a Storm or Story Like Irma

The wall-to-wall media coverage of Hurricane Irma over the weekend is a visceral reminder that in an era of allegations of fake news journalists remain ready and willing to put their lives in jeopardy to provide first-hand reports from the scene.

Reporters from CNN, MSNBC and local TV affiliates spent the weekend subjecting themselves to 100 mph-plus wind and rain in Florida as they urged everyone else to either evacuate or stay inside.

Why do they do this?

Because for the media, the story comes first. Journalists seek truth and need to be on the ground to get it. Journalists take risks to get the truth so they can tell everyone what’s going on.

Without first hand photos and video people will doubt the truth. And if you think that’s far-fetched just Google “9/11 Truthers.” These are people who believe the government faked the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers.

Still, the coverage also was widely debated on Twitter as it was happening, with some calling journalists brave and others calling them stupid.
“Ok…bravery or dumb…that’s a razor thin line.  But I am glad he’s okay,” one person said after Chad Myers said he just endured 130 mph winds.

The debate about the sensational nature of hurricane coverage was predictable, and has been around at least since Dan Rather waded into deep water during Hurricane Carla in 1961.

Rather, who went on to become he longtime anchor of CBS News, pioneered dangerous hurricane when he raced from his TV station in Houston to the island of Galveston, Texas to broadcast images of wind and rain and flooding.

He talks about it here on this YouTube video:

During Hurricane Irma, the cable networks canceled virtually all other programming as they provided special hurricane coverage. NBC even canceled Meet the Press.

That’s a good reminder for those in public relations that when a story like Irma comes along all other stories often take a backseat for a few days while the crisis swamps the newsroom.

This happens on the local level as well. Big stories drain resources and can divert the attention of vast swaths of editors and reporters for days or even weeks.
Here in Detroit the local media has been focused in recent days on the grand opening of Little Caesars Arena – the concert lineup, the restaurants, the cost of the arena, the funding and whether the arena will spur additional development in the area.

There are two ways for us to deal with big stories like this. The first option is to be patient: Wait out the storm, so to speak, and trust that the attention will swing back our way.

The second option is to jump into the action. When it comes to Irma, do you have a client in the insurance industry? Does your client manufacturer generators? Was your client’s inventory harmed by the flooding? Does your client have a manufacturing plant in Texas that was hit by Hurricane Harvey or in Florida? If so, you can pitch any of these stories and angles to reporters who will be hungry for hurricane follow-up stories.

Brent Snavely is a director at Lambert