Tsunami disaster triggers worldwide press outreach

NEW YORK: The tsunamis that devastated Asia and East Africa last week had relief organizations around the globe and at least one US PR agency scrambling to inform people how best they could provide assistance.

NEW YORK: The tsunamis that devastated Asia and East Africa last week had relief organizations around the globe and at least one US PR agency scrambling to inform people how best they could provide assistance.

Carol Miller, a senior program associate and spokeswoman for the American Red Cross International Service, said it would take days for officials to arrive in the region, creating further communications challenges for the already overburdened organization.

But Randy Ackley, regional head of the Indian Red Cross delegation, elected to personally handle interviews from the affected areas in an effort to maximize the efficiency of the colossal relief effort.

Available spokespeople repeatedly pushed the message that financial donations were preferable to goods. They also asked the public to volunteer at local offices rather than inquire about going to affected regions.

Miller said that donated products would glut the already burdened transportation system and could be worth less than the shipping costs.

"So many countries [were] affected, and each has individual needs," Miller said. "We know what's needed and have pre-positioned supplies that fit the standards of the country we're donating to."

The Red Cross began posting information on its website Sunday and has fielded a steady stream of calls ever since.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committed (JDC) has also been busy fielding media requests from CNN, AM New York, and the Regional News Network, based on direct pitches and the press release it sent on Monday. However, Joshua Berkman, manager of PR for JDC, said that many outlets were using AP stories, which used a list supplied by InterAction. While the JDC is recognized by InterAction, the agency's name did not make it on some of the wire stories.

?We?re doing everything we can to get onto the AP,? Berkman said, adding that he has resent a faxed press release to the news wire service.

Berkman said that press interest, in light of such a wide scale disaster, was huge, and that he had been given a separate e-mail address from a New York Times reporter, to make sure his release cut through the non-disaster relation pitches.

The JDC set up a separate mailbox specifically to field tsunami relief donations and hired a temp to field donations.

Outside of media pitches, the JDC has used its partnership with the United Jewish Communities (UJC) by sending a memo out to the marketing and communications directors at the local levels who spread the word to their local communities.

?In the time of emergency, it?s crucial to work quickly,? Berkman said.

Meanwhile, Hill & Knowlton is working with the Center for International Disaster Information, which is charged with providing the public with the best information relating to disaster-relief donations.

H&K is offering proactive and reactive media relations, as well as helping foster relationships with ally organizations, said H&K VP Kristina Boehk.

The group doesn't endorse specific organizations that collect donations, but works with InterAction, a coalition of qualified organizations that solicit donations.

The State Department made the media rounds as well after Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator, on Monday chastised some of the wealthier country's donations as "stingy."

Secretary of State Colin Powell gave interviews on five morning shows on Tuesday to high- light what the US was providing.

Noel Clay, press officer and spokesman for the State Department, initially noted that Powell's efforts had sufficiently disproved Egeland's comments. But on Wednesday, the State Department announced that it would increase the size of the donation, and President Bush announced the formation of an international coalition to spearhead relief efforts.

Egeland subsequently called the US' contribution "very generous."

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