East Coast PR firms go to Plan B after Sandy

Employees of communication shops large and small are working from home Monday and Tuesday to stay safe during the historic storm slamming into the Eastern Seaboard.

Aaron Gottlieb was glad he stayed home on Monday.

Around 3 p.m. ET, Gottlieb learned that wind gusts from Hurricane Sandy had knocked over a crane perched atop a building on W. 57th Street in Manhattan. It dangled 700 feet above the ground, directly across the street from IF management, a talent representation company where Gottlieb is director of PR and communications.

“If I had been in the office I’d have been glued to the TV for updates,” Gottlieb said.

Working remotely and checking (and re-checking) the news is how many people along the Eastern Seaboard spent Monday. Mass transit systems in New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts were shut down. The New York Stock Exchange closed its doors Monday and Tuesday—the first weather-related closure of that length since 1888—and The New York Times told all nonessential employees to stay home.

Even the Starbucks locations in New York City shut their doors.

Yes, that’s right. No Starbucks.

PR firms were no different, with agencies large and small telling employees to work from home, erring on the side of caution as Sandy careened toward the East Coast, ultimately slamming most directly into New Jersey and metro New York.

Edelman, Burson-Marsteller, and Ogilvy PR closed their offices in New York and D.C. on Monday and Tuesday and asked staff to work remotely if they’re able to do so, as did the many small and mid-size agencies throughout New York.

For instance, Workhouse PR, located on the edge of New York’s low-lying Area A, closed its physical offices until the storm passed, but it has reps working remotely to maintain active service, according to Adam Nelson, the CEO of Workhouse.

“The marvel here is that each [employee] has said they are well suited in the comfort of their living rooms and prefer this new desk configuration,” he said.

The New York employees at Bliss Integrated Communications are working remotely and rerouting main line calls to their office in Chicago. “They’re aware we’re all working remotely and are more than able to handle anything that may come in across the board,” Bliss’s Nathan Burgess said of the firm’s Chicago employees.

Bliss, like many other firms, started preparing for Hurricane Sandy on Friday. According to Burgess, employees took home whatever work materials they felt were necessary to work outside the office. On Sunday morning, Bliss management emailed its staff about how they will handle account work and notify clients. Meanwhile, an IT staffer went into its NYC offices on Sunday to forward calls to employees’ mobile devices or home phones.

Even with all the preparation, Burgess said safety remains the top priority.

“As you probably expect, all employees were told to pay first and foremost attention to their own safety and making sure they are secure before even considering work-related items,” he said.

Crenshaw Communications also prepared its employees to work from home during Hurricane Sandy. CEO Dorothy Crenshaw said her company is using a rapid response plan that it developed when it was The Weather Channel’s agency of record.

“It involves simple steps, such as updating our team contact lists, testing the VPN, backing up media lists on flash drives, sharing [personal email addresses] in the unlikely event of a server failure, keeping all devices charged in case of an imminent power outage, and preparing guidelines for staying connected (check email every hour, monitor Twitter and other SM networks, etc.),” explained Crenshaw.

“It’s not every event where you have the luxury of advance notice,” she added.

Even communication shops as far up the coast as Boston were taking precautions. Burson-Marsteller’s employees in Beantown are working remotely on Tuesday, as are the staffers at InkHouse Media and Marketing.

“We’ll hold internal meetings and client conference calls, as scheduled and as long as we have power,” InkHouse’s Whitney Clifford told PR Daily.

Another InkHouse employee, Tina Cassidy, said on the agency’s blog, “With many calls and all in-person meetings cancelled due to the weather, it’s freed up a lot of time to catch up on other assignments.”

Has Hurricane Sandy stranded you at home this week? Let us know in the comments section what precautions your company is taking and how they’ve affected you.


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