PR industry steps up to aid region battered by Katrina

NEW YORK: The PR industry's scattered but heartfelt response to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina has started to coalesce into a unified effort, with offers of assistance and cash donations flowing from large agencies and industry pros to the survivors in the watery Bayou.

NEW YORK: The PR industry's scattered but heartfelt response to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina has started to coalesce into a unified effort, with offers of assistance and cash donations flowing from large agencies and industry pros to the survivors in the watery Bayou.

The PRSA convened a task force shortly after the storm hit to determine how best to use its expertise. Judith Phair, PRSA president, said the group offered to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other relief organizations with communications. Though it found FEMA "a bit overwhelmed," Phair emphasized that "we're in this for the marathon, not the sprint."

Margaret Hennen, who is leading the PRSA task force, said the group is also working with Louisiana's lieutenant governor to help shore up the state's shattered tourism industry. The PRSA hopes to incorporate sessions into its annual conference in Miami next month to explore lessons learned and channel aid from members.

The Council of PR Firms was preparing to launch a section of its website to "act as a clearinghouse" for member firms in the affected areas.

"We have a lot of members who have offered space, technology, staff support," said council VP Matt Shaw.

Phair said the PRSA was also slated to launch a similar section on its website this week.

The day after Katrina made its way through New Orleans and the surrounding areas, Burson-Marsteller put up a website where employees could donate to relief efforts. The donations, which were matched by the agency, reached "well over $10,000 in the first four hours of the site going live," said Burson director of marketing Jennifer Norton. The site will stay up through the end of this month, possibly longer.

The firm is also helping its clients coordinate their responses to the storm, she added.

Edelman, AOR for the United Way (UW), is matching all employee contributions to UW's hurricane response fund. The agency's Atlanta office is doing pro-bono work surrounding the relocation of families from the affected areas for that city's UW office , said Edelman's eastern region president, Matthew Harrington.

Additionally, the agency's New York office designed and ordered 10,000 wristbands with the phrase "Help, Hope, Rebuild, Renew" to be distributed to employees and sold to raise money for UW.

On September 3, Gloria Dittus, president and CEO of Dittus Communications in DC, chartered a tour bus and drove for 21 hours to Louisiana with four of her staff and several medical personnel. She was delivering 8,000 pounds of supplies, courtesy of Home Depot, Harris Teeter, and others, to the residents of Washington Parish, north of New Orleans.

"I've been going to Louisiana all my life," Dittus said. "Anything I can help them do, I'm going to do. And I'm not going to let a bureaucracy get in my way."

Omnicom, WPP, and Interpublic group all gave corporate donations to the Red Cross and other groups on behalf of member firms, representatives said.

Other PR firms that made cash donations and/or matched employee contributions include MWW, Brunswick Group, Ogilvy, Ruder Finn, MS&L, Hill & Knowlton, Financial Dynamics, and Ketchum.

Several firms also said they undertook special efforts to help staffers displaced by the storm.

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