Aug 312011
Authors: Lydia Jorden

Sitting in my basement with my family while waiting for a tornado to pass was one of the scariest moments of my life. During that time, I wasn’t thinking about anything going on around me, but I was consumed in short-term thoughts of “what ifs.”

Natural disasters carry widespread panic among businesses and the community. However, these events are a time to improve a reputation and find the opportunity in a frightening experience.

Mass advertising of ordinary safety products such as flashlights, batteries, radios and bottled water have always been a source of income for retailers. However, ads highlighting these products have become more frequent due to the rise of natural disaster emergencies.

A few nights ago, I read an article in “Advertising Age” reminding consumers that Wal-Mart is extending hours in some locations, specifically the east coast, for those in need of purchasing supplies in preparation of Hurricane Irene. In the same article, AdAge noted that Home Depot is replenishing their store by utilizing 300 trucks to aid in inventory.

These companies took the opportunity of a disaster and demonstrated a positive response through their actions. However, capitalizing on a natural disaster seems inhumane in a multitude of ways. When people’s lives are at risk, it is questionable if retailers should take advantage of the situation by making “hurricane checklists” and prompting people to purchase from their store.

Retailers are benefiting from natural disasters by promoting their products using Twitter and Facebook as main channels of communication.

For example, Home Depot is taking efforts to protect their Twitter followers by posting frequent “Hurricane Safety Tips” while Wal-Mart is doing the same by posting well wishes to employees and all those at risk of being in the path of Irene. Stores are even releasing lists of most purchased products so others can follow in the footsteps of those that are most prepared for the event.

Of course, the issue of ethics comes up when these businesses are doing things to promote their stores during times of extreme anxiety and fear. It is clear that many companies have good intentions, despite utilizing a natural disaster to endorse their finest safety gear. Many industries are working hard to inform their consumers in an effort to keep them safe, thus creating customer loyalty and improving the name of the business.

Profit-seeking companies are criticized for only looking to increase their bottom line. However, being a well-known company during a natural disaster allows the opportunity to make decisions to influence the way consumers view and shop at various retailers.

Companies need to use events that are happening out of their control to find an opportunity to improve themselves and the community.

During Hurricane Katrina, Lowe’s contributed truckloads of supplies to struggling individuals to aid in emergency relief. Lowe’s plans to deliver similar promises by providing products to those affected by Irene.

Because these companies have a long-term obligation to stay in business, they are often the first responders for making these contributions.

A prime example includes Wal-Mart’s efforts during Hurricane Katrina. Many victims looked to the store as a hero for assisting in relief efforts — at many times, more so than federal and local aid — to keep those affected safe.

There are numerous companies that need to take a positive perspective on natural disasters. Major leaders of companies need to recognize that all eyes are on them as they choose their plan of action when responding to dire situations.

It’s difficult to imagine the economic consequences of such devastating tragedies Mother Nature brings; yet, it is almost just as difficult to imagine how selfless even some of the most profit-maximizing firms stay during times of struggle.

Had I thought about the experiences and opportunities others had to make a difference from the experiences I encountered, I may have felt a bit more secure. Like many of these companies, I encourage you to focus on every situation with the mindset that opportunities are almost everywhere — it’s simply a matter of discovering them.

Lydia Jorden is a junior business major. She can be reached at

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