How Companies Handle – And Botch – Natural Disasters Like Hurricane Florence

Here's a look at three brands that got PR (and being human) right as the Carolinas and Virginia confront multiple threats from Hurricane Florence.

Photo: Erica Nicole, Founder and CEO of YFS Magazine; Source: Jhnea Turner, Photographer

If you say you love your customers, now (during a time of great need) is the best time to show it. While many small businesses find themselves unprepared for acts of God and natural disasters, some brands both large and small take proactive steps to build deeper relationships and bolster their local communities.

Here’s a look at four brands that got PR (and being human) right as the Carolinas and Virginia confront multiple threats from Hurricane Florence – a menacing storm on track to crash into the U.S. Atlantic coast Friday, September 14th.


1. Southwest Airlines waives pet travel fee

Many of us are familiar with the heartbreaking images of pets left behind during major Hurricane’s like Katrina and Irma. Forced from their homes, people will wrestle with the choice to take or leave their pets. For some evacuation centers pets are not allowed (Here’s a list of pet-friendly evacuation shelters). It’s a widespread concern for residents fleeing hurricane Florence.

The Washington Post reports, “one 2006 poll found 44 percent of people who chose not to evacuate during Katrina did so because they did not want to abandon their pets. Even so, the Louisiana SPCA estimated, more than 100,000 pets were left behind and as many as 70,000 died throughout the Gulf Coast.”


Photo: Rawpixel.com, Pexels
Photo: Rawpixel.com, YFS Magazine

To remedy the financial concern of pet owners Southwest Airlines made an empathetic move to waive the $95 pet fare for customers traveling with small vaccinated domestic dogs or cats to/from Charleston (CHS), Charlotte (CLT), Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) and Raleigh/Durham (RDU).

Planning for pets during natural disasters is a difficult task. Southwest Airlines took actionable steps to ease customer burdens and build relationships along the way. United Airlines (known all too well for their #unfriendlyskies) – take notes.


2. U-Haul offers first month free with no contract

Unfortunately, natural disasters spur mass displacement. Impromptu and temporary moves can be a costly hassle and all-together stressful for those in harms way.

U-Haul recognizing this pain point (and PR opportunity), asserts that kindness is good business. The moving equipment and storage rental company announced a “no-contract, first month free” offer on Twitter. As you might expect, social media reactions have been positive.


Source: Twitter


In the wake of Hurricane Florence over 1.5 million people were issued evacuation orders (some mandatory). When companies take an opportunity to build goodwill (and their bottom line) in the midst of hardship it doesn’t go unnoticed.

For years the moving industry has suffered from a bad case of public relations mishaps. However, U-Haul aims to go the distance with their customers–literally.


3. BJ’s Wholesale Club offers free 3-month trial memberships

For residents impacted by Hurricane Florence the popular wholesale members-only club, BJ’s aims to cash in and help out by offering a 3-month free trial to non-members who want to stock up on necessities.

In a press release the company confirms, “Residents can stock up at BJ’s Wholesale Club for all of their storm preparation needs including water, batteries, gas, food and more…” While “Digital coupons can be downloaded through the BJ’s app.” North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia residents who sign up for the free trial will also have the option to join BJ’s Wholesale Club for $25  (a 50 percent discount).


4. Airbnb lists ‘open homes’ for free housing

Airbnb, the popular online marketplace which lets people rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests, offers a program called Open Homes to host evacuees. Airbnb hosts offer their spare rooms for free and over 300 hosts from Pennsylvania to Alabama are currently participating in Airbnb’s Disaster Response Program.


Photo: Negative Space, Pexels
Photo: Negative Space, YFS Magazine

Hosts can opt to list their homes for $0 by visiting pages dedicated to an event covered by their Open Homes program, like this one for Hurricane Florence. Hosts are in control of how often they wish to open their homes and how long guests stay. If you need to find free shelter or want to help someone in need this program is a great option.


Kindness is good business

While many businesses rise above the fray, some have been accused of price gouging. For example, a customer takes Home Depot to task on Twitter for reportedly raising the price for hurricane prevention supplies.


Source: Twitter


A cautionary reminder that some brands create their own PR fiascos during trying times while others take proactive steps to reclaim the narrative, help those in need and play an active role in the communities they serve.

Many of your customers may be directly or indirectly impacted by natural disasters. Storms like Hurricane Florence often deal a devastating blow to local residents and economies. Consider how your small business can make an impact, above and beyond a crafty press release. Because after all, kindness is good business.


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