Hurricane Sandy hits Adland

Brands get charitable, agencies close up shop, everyone hunkers down As news footage has shown, Hurricane Sandy has more-or-less shut down New York City, the hub of North America’s ad market. But marketers have been surprisingly active around the massive storm. As Sandy worked her way up the eastern seaboard toward New York City on […]

Brands get charitable, agencies close up shop, everyone hunkers down

As news footage has shown, Hurricane Sandy has more-or-less shut down New York City, the hub of North America’s ad market. But marketers have been surprisingly active around the massive storm.

As Sandy worked her way up the eastern seaboard toward New York City on Monday, most agencies and marketers across the Northeast kept staffers at home and let them know they’d be out at least through Tuesday. Two of the ad shops in New York City most closely situated to mandatory evacuation zones – digital agencies Huge and Big Spaceship in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn – were closed and monitoring the potential for some storm damage on Monday. Both are situated on upper floors, so the hope is that flooding won’t be a problem even if the neighborhood gets waterlogged.

Starbucks closed down all of its New York City and Long Island locations Sunday afternoon through at least Monday. Hundreds of retailers, including a dozen Home Depot locations, nearly 50 Lowe’s locations and 130 Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores stretching from Washington, D.C. to southern Connecticut had shuttered by midday Monday. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have activated their emergency command centers in an effort to keep stores stocked with popular items such as generators and flashlights, as well as to facilitate restocking efforts once Hurricane Sandy has passed.

‘Year-round exercise’
“Our goal is to be the last to close and the first to open. We stay open as long as we can, as long as it is safe for our associates to be there,” said Meghan King, a spokeswoman with Home Depot. “On the other hand, many stores have extended their hours to serve customers as long as possible.”

“Hurricane planning is a year-round exercise for us, so our operations, merchandising and store teams know what to do and when to do it,” King added.

As early as Saturday, home-improvement stores in the Northeast were selling out of batteries and flashlights, while customers stood on long lines to purchase generators – before they sold out. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot have dedicated teams working to replenish supplies as quickly as possible, spokeswomen for Home Depot and Lowe’s told Ad Age.

“We have relationships with FEMA and Accuweather that give us insight on where the storm is headed and where we need to position product,” said Stacey Lentz, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s, noting the need for both snow-related and hurricane-related products in this particular storm.

Both retailers sent hundreds of truckloads of product to stores in affected areas ahead of the storm and have products staged in distribution centers just outside of the storm’s predicated impact zone.

“We are already in touch with the Red Cross and other relief organizations to provide assistance now with things like sandbags and tarps and to plan for the storm aftermath,” King said. “In addition to continuing to move needed supplies into the strike zone, we are staging essential items near the strike zone in bulk loads and warehouses – ready to move it in after the storm.”

Beverage companies were also mobilizing on Monday, with plans to donate bottled water and other resources in affected areas. Coca-Cola said it will be donating to disaster-relief agencies, including the Red Cross. And Nestle Waters said the Red Cross had already requested product for the New York metro area. The PepsiCo Foundation is providing $500,000 to the American Red Cross as part of its annual disaster giving program, while Feeding America will receive $250,000 for its annual disaster relief fund. A spokeswoman said those donations will go toward providing immediate support to affected areas.

“It’s too soon to tell what, if any, impact there will be on operations since the storm will continue through Tuesday,” said Susan Stribling, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, noting facilities throughout the Northeast were closed on Monday.

Jane Lazgin, a spokeswoman for Nestle Waters, which is headquartered in Stamford, Conn. and was closed on Monday, said the company anticipates supply-chain disruptions, particularly in transportation. A PepsiCo spokeswoman said the company’s Purchase, N.Y. headquarters was also closed on Monday.

Tweaking promotions, canceling events
Both the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns canceled events ahead of the storm and even encouraged supporters to take down yard signs. According to Politico, the New Hampshire Republican Party sent an email asking that all lawn signs “be taken down so they are not blown away and cause damage.”

A couple of booze marketers took different approaches on Facebook. While Pabst touted cases of beer as a “hurricane preparedness kit,” Captain Morgan opted for a simpler “Stay safe” message.

Taco Bell had scheduled its “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion, which distributes free Doritos Locos Tacos if a base is successfully stolen in the World Series, was scheduled for Tuesday. The company was going to reschedule the promotion at those stores affected by the storm.

Chase said it will waive certain fees for customers in seven states and Washington D.C. through the end of the day on Wednesday. The bank sent customers an email on Sunday evening noting it would waive or credit back overdraft fees on deposit accounts and late fees on credit cards, business and consumer loans. A Chase spokesman said the move is Chase’s standard response during natural disasters and that the bank offered similar assistance, for instance, to customers in Alabama during the tornadoes last year. Chase began preparing over the weekend by making sure branches in affected areas had plenty of cash on hand.

Citibank, meanwhile, said on its website that it would help customers with “financial recovery,” including waiving fees and access to cash, advising that affected customers contact customer service. The bank closed branches in flood-prone areas of New York City but said it would waive ATM fees for customers who had to use another bank’s machines.

Media responds
A more opportunistic approach is being taken by Aereo, which is using Sandy to promote its internet TV service, which is currently available in New York City. Aereo is expanding its free trial for 12 hours so those who don’t have cable can watch local broadcast news updates. The company sent out several tweets on Monday announcing the free trial, opening access for President Barack Obama’s press conference addressing the storm.

DirecTV launched a 24-hour cable network today devoted to storm coverage, which will provide live broadcasts from affected markets in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore and Norfolk, Va. It will provide coverage until Sandy diminishes in strength.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Long Island’s Newsday all lowered their paywall to allow free access to coverage of Hurricane Sandy. The Wall Street Journal’s paywall will stay down at least through Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman. A spokeswoman for the Times said readers won’t have to pay for access while there is still a storm emergency, while a Newsday spokesman said the paywall will stay down “at least for the duration of the storm.”

Twitter is offering free “Promoted Crisis Tweets” to @RedCross, @FEMA, @NYCMayorsOffice and @MDMEMA too to help keep people informed about the latest developments. And Monday afternoon it pulled together one of its hashtag pages for Sandy to serve as a content hub for information about the storm. (Thus far, the page’s tweet stream appears to be composed of tweets from officials, agencies and media outlets – but not brands.)

In sunny Miami, meanwhile, the ANA’s annual multicultural marketing conference went smoothly, with just two speakers – from Macy’s and Diversity Inc. – and a number of delegates canceling because they couldn’t fly in from the Northeast. But most of the nearly 700 attendees turned up, and the weather was in the 80s just days after tropical storms caused by Sandy passed through Miami on their way up the eastern seaboard. But virtually all flights to the stormy Northeast on Tuesday, when the ANA conference ends, have been cancelled.

How to get back to New York was a hot topic at the opening cocktail and dinner on Sunday, but by Monday most attendees had managed to re-book to a Wednesday fight, and a few road warriors just wrote New York off and planned to hop a flight to another city they would have flown to from New York a few days later.

This story originally appeared in Advertising Age.

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