Rebuilding after hurricanes: How storytelling can drive recovery

Natural disasters can pound cities and even entire states, displacing residents and devastating small businesses. PR pros can guide the narrative and help accelerate the comeback.

The devastation from hurricanes Harvey and Irma have focused attention on renewal.

Current estimates say recovery costs from the two monster storms could approach $300 billion.

Small businesses face particular challenges, having lost customers, inventory, and office space. Grim though those estimates are, recovery and even renaissance is possible for small businesses, especially if they can tell their stories in a compelling way.

New Orleans’ small businesses rebounded after Katrina and triumphed. Within a year after the hurricane, 75 percent of small companies were back in business, largely because they had shared their stories effectively.

Although the recovery has had its stumbles, the city is recognized as an up-and-coming tech hub, and its well-respected restaurant industry experienced a major renaissance. By 2015, small businesses employed 79 percent of New Orleans’ workforce, and entrepreneurship was more than half above the national average.

This can be true for Texas and Florida, too. Well-told stories can shape the destiny of affected companies, the community and the cities. As organizations and small businesses rebuild, here are some things to keep in mind:

Pay attention to details. There will be no “business as usual” in the weeks and months to come; there will only be business as unusual. In the scramble to recover, don’t lose sight of the extraordinary. It is these daily choices that, though seemingly small in the moment, will help shape the unique narrative of your renewal.

Home in on what’s most important. After a major disaster, there’s no telling how long the recovery will take. By the time you are fully operational, you might have years of stories to tell. Figure out which are most important—the unusual or provocative highlights that you can fit into a short pitch or a brief post—and focus on them.

Identify what is important to a particular reporter—and reach out. Avoid misfires by doing research. If you have recently reopened a local restaurant, don’t pester a sports magazine or a radio show halfway across the country. If you run a hardware store, don’t bother the reporter who covers county politics. Finding the right people will help you get your story out there faster—and keep reporters friendly.

 

Get creative on owned platforms. A reporter doesn’t want to hear every step of your recovery, but customers following you on social media do. Whether it’s an Instagram account that shares a daily photo of your rebuilding, a YouTube channel with interviews of local stakeholders, or a blogger who goes in depth on how you’re handling weekly rebuilding challenges, social media is where you can get detailed and creative, engage with customers and create something unique for your audience.

Make friends and form partnerships. In the aftermath of the hurricane, people will be looking for stories of togetherness and teamwork. Use local ties and social media to connect with kindred organizations and businesses. Reach out, and share resources. Community collaboration will speed the recovery process—and make the journey far more interesting to audiences.

David Fouse is a partner and lead strategist with Pinkston Group (@PinkstonGroupPR). A version of this article was originally published on the agency’s blog and on LinkedIn.

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