As the nation came to grips with the grim reality of the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, the corporate world fell over each other rushing to offer assistance. However, it was the actions of concerned individuals and small groups that spurred them and the government into action.
Our team was thrown smack into the middle of the massive outpouring of generosity that was yet to be experienced in Zimbabwe. So did a number of corporates eager to be seen to be doing something.
As one colleague rightly put it, Zimbabweans have their hearts in the right place. Despite the economic calamity we are mired in, we have shown the world our true character in the face of adversity affecting our fellow countryman as a result of the disaster.
However, in the thick of all the emotions surrounding the disaster, the most glaring lesson is that of being pro-active. From the Government, the under-financed Civil Protection Unit, right down to companies without proper corporate social investment (CSI) strategies, we were all seemed to be caught unawares.
While we leave the issue of CSI strategy for another day (even though we have talked about it here), let us examine the whole approach to disaster relief involvement by corporates and how it fits in their business values.
Richard Etchinson of Crenshaw Communications says that public relations (PR) is an essential business function for imparting a company’s values and beliefs to the public.
Because earned media confers credibility, it can be decidedly more powerful than marketing and advertising. Earned media being the desired result from a business\’ efforts, such as involvement in disaster relief, amplified by media coverage, social media posts or or tweets, reviews and open dialogue about the brand within online communities.
Today’s buying public is very sceptical about buying into advertising trumpeting a company’s inherent beliefs. PR works to generate credibility through harnessing what we call ‘third-party endorsement.’
However, PR is not there to sell a dummy. It should be part of that organisation’s values to uplift community including coming to their assistance in times of need. Communicating such values as social change, confronting social ills and dealing with poverty can be a powerful differentiator.
Lenox Mhlanga is Lead Consultant at Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants, a corporate communications agency. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0772 400 656