Comms vital to relaying altruism

Have you ever thought twice about promoting your company's response to disasters?

Have you ever thought twice about promoting your company's response to disasters?

If so, consider this: In the chaos that ensues with disasters, it is the business community's expertise, ingenuity, and resolve that comes to the rescue.

Home Depot, Pfizer, FedEx, and dozens of others filled a gaping hole in disaster relief efforts in 2005, and it was the hard work of many corporate communications pros that made the entire business community shine. The cover of last October's Fortune speaks for itself: "Government Broke Down. Business Stepped Up."

June 1 marks the beginning of the 2006 hurricane season. Corporate America is poised to once again be a full partner in disaster response. Many of you undoubtedly will be called upon to make critical decisions about how to promote your company's good deeds. The fundamental question you must ask is: can the company's altruism influence your corporate reputation?

If so, consult now with philanthropy, human resources, CSR, security, and government relations managers to integrate all efforts related to disaster response with the central communications plan. Your actions planning and responding to a crisis speak volumes about your core values. Move beyond the narrow loop of the philanthropic world to the business community, and extend communication to Wall Street. Analysts and investors need to hear consistent messages that a thoughtful, comprehensive disaster plan enhances the company's reputation and, thus, its bottom line.

Communicate vital information, such as emergency response plans and community safety measures, corporate donations, and volunteerism, to all stakeholders.

Take these five steps:

Integration. Make sure messaging related to disaster response initiatives is integrated with all C- suite communications. Weave corporate philanthropy and response activities into all talking points and media opportunities.

CEO leadership. After Katrina, one CEO stopped talking about his firm's efforts and spoke instead of the need for competing businesses to pool resources. His company's platform evolved quickly to genuine thought leadership.

Employee bonds. Enlist employees. A company's efforts will be much more credible if employees are engaged. And don't underestimate the impact this will have creating strong bonds of loyalty and pride among employees.

Real events, real stories. Collect anecdotes from employees. Their eyewitness accounts of immediate efforts may be the only record available and speak to their employer's commitment.

Communication. Expand outreach to include blogs and podcasts, as well as traditional media. In the mad scramble during disasters, any accurate information is good information. Don't be afraid to regularly post news releases on Web sites to ensure accuracy.

The Business Roundtable's Partnership for Disaster Response stands ready to again be a clearinghouse and central repository for information on corporate contributions and activities. As PR pros, we have the responsibility to strategically use communications to relay corporate altruism. If last year's positive coverage is any indication of the changing perception of business, our cumulative work will reap rewards that reach far beyond the bottom line.

Johanna Schneider is executive director of external relations for The Business Roundtable.

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