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Making the News Work for You

November 6, 2012 By Denny Hatch
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NOTE FROM Denny Hatch: Watching the horrors of Hurricane Sandy sent me scurrying to my files to look up the story that first appeared in the November 1993 issue of Target Marketing. I used it later in the September 2006 online Business Common Sense.

The story of Roger Craver’s emergency mailing into the teeth of Hurricane Andrew is riveting stuff and worth looking at again—with lessons for all marketers—considering the $50 billion catastrophe named Sandy that hit New Jersey, Connecticut, Manhattan and Staten Island.

Help in Natural Disasters
On Oct. 17, 1989, an earthquake rocked San Francisco. Seven days later a correspondent of mine in San Francisco received a one-page letter from T.B. Fisher, manager of travel card services for Chevron USA, sent First Class Presort and dated Oct. 18. It read:

We’ve heard about the problems that have hit your area because of the earthquake, and we sincerely hope you have not been personally affected. However, if circumstances have disrupted your routine, we want you to know we are ready to help. If we can assist by extending more time to pay your account, just let us know. You may call us toll-free at 800-CHEVRON or drop a note in the enclosed postage-paid envelope. This is one small way to say thank you for your business and confidence in our company.

It sounds like a sacrifice on Chevron’s part. But presumably if payments were delayed, interest accrued, more than paying for the cost of the mailing. Meanwhile, the goodwill generated by Chevron was priceless.

Using a News Story to Raise Money
One of the smartest fundraisers in the world is Roger Craver, co-founder of Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co.

On Aug. 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew slammed into southern Florida and Louisiana with gusts above 160 mph. The storm caused 23 deaths and $26.5 billion in damage in the United States. It was the worst storm in history up to that time.

Roger Craver’s client was Habitat for Humanity, founded by Millard Fuller. When Andrew was being tracked in the Caribbean, Craver and his team spent days glued to the weather reports.

As the devastation became evident, Fuller, who was at Habitat’s headquarters in Americus, Ga., began writing copy. Up in Virginia, Craver and his associate, Jack Juhasz, closeted themselves in an office to create their own version of a fundraising letter. The various drafts were faxed back and forth between Arlington and Americus (this was pre-Internet and e-mail). A half-hour later Craver emerged with a letter that combined the best work of all three writers. Craver tossed the letter on the desk of account executive Cynthia Hampton and said, “Run with it!”

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