Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast last summer, destroying entire communities, displacing more than a million residents, and killing upward of 1,000 people.
After the winds and rain swept through the region, the American Red Cross faced the enormous task of coordinating both relief efforts and media relations - and constituents' demands were overwhelming.
The relief organization and its 824 chapters needed a way to quickly share information, report their ground activities, recruit volunteers, and inspire people to open their wallets.
It turned to the NewsMarket, a company that distributes VNRs, b-roll, and other clips to broadcast journalists. The Red Cross had signed up for the service after the tsunami hit Southeast Asia.
Eight months later, the Red Cross hoped to use the NewsMarket platform to streamline its Katrina outreach efforts.
At the hurricane season's start, the Red Cross uploaded footage in a central media library on its website. The database included b-roll around disaster preparedness: clips, for instance, of families taking preparedness classes, putting together supply kits, and formulating readiness plans.
"Every time a hurricane approached, we would re-purpose that video," says Romina Rosado, VP of client and media relations at the NewsMarket.
The day after Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, the PR team quickly began adding b-roll of the damage, as well as interviews with victims.
Chuck Connor, SVP of communication and marketing for the Red Cross, notes that the media library helped manage the media crush.
"It's very easy for the bandwidth of your people to be taken up by chores," he says. "For Katrina, which was so huge and so devastating... the Red Cross could not be everywhere it wanted to be and needed to be."
When Katrina first hit the radar, the Red Cross dispatched members of its PR team to the regions most likely to be impacted.
After the hurricane made landfall, crews sent on-the-ground footage overnight to the NewsMarket, recalls Carrie Martin, senior officer of strategic communications and planning at the Red Cross. "Visual images compel people to give," Martin says. "We were able to be a greater resource to the media."
Those images included both pictures of the damage, as well as more educational clips about rescue vehicles involved in the relief effort.
The database also included sound bites in English and Spanish warning residents not to return to the region. "People didn't realize at the very beginning how serious it was," Rosado says.
Like the media, local chapters of the Red Cross could similarly access the material from the central database to create their own campaigns.
At the outreach effort's peak, the NewsMarket received 500 media requests from 133 stations in 16 countries, Rosado notes.
More than $1 billion in donations poured into the Red Cross, surpassing even the number of contributions after 9/11.
Connor notes that the quick turnaround also allowed the news media and the public to see the extent of the relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region. "It combats the notion that we're not there," he says. "We had to show what we were doing because there were plenty of people saying what we were not doing."
The media library is still in place, and the Red Cross has renewed its contract with the NewsMarket for 2006.
PR team: American Red Cross (Washington) and the NewsMarket (New York)
Campaign: Coordinating media relations around Hurricane Katrina
Time frame: June to September 2005
Budget: Included in annual contract