February 4, 2015

Mother Nature’s PR

You may have heard, it snowed in New York this week. And last week. And it might snow again on Thursday or through the weekend. Or maybe not.

It seems like we have a potential snowmaggedon or snowpocalypse several times a month. The media loves a good power storm. Great visuals. School closings to report. (If you are of a certain age, I’m sure you have fond memories of hovering over an AM radio just waiting for that list to be read.) Lots of panic to spread. (Has anyone NOT seen the hilarious YouTube clip about getting bread and milk?)

And now every storm has a name (generally from Greek and Roman mythology to psyche us out more). Names have power. Imagine how much fun it would be to name the storms things like Bozo or Shrimpy or even Olaf, so the weather people could just sing Frozen songs all day.)

To be sure, sometimes the predictions are accurate (just ask our friends in Boston), but, it seems to me, more often, the dire forecasts rarely come true.

Expensive decisions are made based on these forecasts and the hype surrounding them. Schools are closed long before the first flake falls. Public transportation shuts down (forcing businesses to follow suit). Lines at supermarkets and gas stations become truly ridiculous.

And then, when the storm ends and it’s just snow rather than a blizzard, nobody starts talking about “snowflakegate.” Nobody is calling in crisis communications specialists to negate the fallout of poor predictions. Nobody loses their job for being wrong. (Though to his credit, at least one National Weather Service employee tweeted an apology over the blizzard that wasn’t.)

We chuckle and shake our heads and bemoan the hype and panic. We post cute memes on Facebook. We make chocolate pudding or macaroni and cheese to use up our stockpile of milk before it expires. We make a mental note to buy new snowgloves since we couldn’t find any matching pairs this time around.

And then we do it all again when the next snowstorm inches its way onto the radar.

Clearly Mother Nature’s PR packs a powerful punch! Everyone talks about her. The markets move based on her whims. The mere threat of a blizzard takes over the entire newscycle.

So what can we mere mortal PR folks learn from all this?  Well, for one thing, we should advise our clients that unless they are selling snowblowers, they should probably hold off on any major announcements if a storm’s abrewing. But, we can also use the media’s snow-focus to our advantage. The media loves to find new twists to report.

For example, last week our local newspaper in north NJ had a great article on how libraries see a major surge when a storm is predicted. (When the power goes out, old-fashioned books are the perfect entertainment.)

With a little creative thinking, we can probably find a snow or weather-related story for almost any client.

By: Gail Dukas

Gail Dukas is the Chief Operating Officer at Dukas Public Relations.