Making the News Work for You
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!”
Hampton ordered the presses cranked up and the Hurricane Andrew emergency request was slammed into the mail the following day.
Two versions were mailed: Version No. 1: A “HURRICANE ANDREW ALERT” consisting of two pages printed in all caps was sent to donors of $250 or more via UPS. It asked for “an immediate contribution to Our Hurricane Andrew Fund in the amount of $1,500 or even $2,000 if at all possible.”
Everything about this effort screamed urgency—from the 9” x 12” UPS 2nd Day Air packet to the reply envelope (not a BRE) on which was scrawled in red:
Hurricane Andrew Emergency Fund
How could Habitat afford UPS? Because Hampton made a cold call to UPS and asked if it would deliver these efforts for free. The answer was yes.
Version No. 2 was the same letter, printed front-and-back on a plain white 8-1/2” x 11” sheet and mailed First Class in a two-window No. 10 “AIR GRAM” envelope to donors of less than $250. These donors were asked for an “amount of $75 or even $100 if at all possible.” This version converted some who had only given $50 before into $1,000 donors.
These powerful appeals arrived at the same time people were seeing the devastation of Andrew on the front pages of their newspapers and on television.
In all, 330,000 pieces went out, bringing $5 million.
Incidentally, if you want to create a sense of even greater urgency, use a pre-printed UPS or Federal Express form and envelope as a reply device. The prospect will perceive it as a very expensive addition to the effort and very flattering. But Federal Express and UPS envelopes and forms are free, so you only pay for those that are returned. Hopefully the order or contribution will more than offset the cost of the reply shipment.
P.S. Do you have any stories of how the news was used to generate sales or enhance customer loyalty? If so, won’t you share them with readers by posting them below? Thank you.
Takeaways to Consider
- Check out Roger Craver’s current advice in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
- Be continually aware of news developments—internationally and nationally. Developments that impact your life also will impact your customers’ and prospects’ lives.
- At every staff meeting, raise the question: “Anything in the news that can affect our business?”
- It can cost you nothing to reassure customers and prospects that their well-being is paramount. For example, the P.S. is one of the most-read elements in a letter. Here’s a sample P.S. that could be added to every customer communication—sales letter or billing effort:
—P.S. Because of the high price of oil, many companies have raised their shipping charges. I have ordered an internal study and found a few areas where [COMPANY NAME] can trim expenses, which means your delivery costs will NOT be increased in the foreseeable future. What’s more, when you purchase of $100 or more, shipping is free.
- Note the use of “I” rather than “we.” The letter is personal correspondence from one writer to one reader. “I” write “you” a letter. “We” do not write a letter and more than one person does not sign a letter. “We” is impersonal and cold.
- If big news hits some area of the country—or the whole country—can you jump in the mail—or online—quickly with some kind relevant offer to make your customers’ and prospects’ lives easier? Not next week or next month. It has to be in the mail (or the e-mail inbox) the next day to be effective.
- Never send out a mailing that doesn’t demand a reply. That’s throwing away money, because if no one replies, you’ll never know how effective the effort was or even if it was delivered.
Ehrlich - Posted on September 13, 2006
Denny, thank you for a very interesting article: it spoke directly to my Direct Marketer's and Relationship Manager's heart. A similar story happened to me on 9.11.2001. Only the company I worked for at the time didn't see the positive impact my suggestion could have had on customer good will and business. I was at a Neurologist convention in Dublin when the Towers went down. Since many neurologists from the US attended the convention, most of them decided to spend only minimum time at the convention in order to be able to watch the news on the TV in their hotel room. Participating at a convention or fair is always a huge investment. In addition to a large booth, our company had a very nice hospitality suite, which remained empty that day. That afternoon, when I saw that most of our visitors were leaving for their hotel, I recommended that we organize a television and satellite dish in order to give people the opportunity to catch up with the news in between symposiums, so that they didn't need to go back to the hotel. Total cost for the whole duration of the convention: $ 2'000. The argument I got was: it's too expensive. I argued that considering our investment in the hospitality suite alone was close to $50'000 this was hardly a big investment. They then insisted that we would have the hospitality suite full of people and that it would be impossible to conduct business. I argued that with 9/11 in their mind, most people didn't have a head for business anyway and that this would be a great occasion to show them the human/caring side of the company. The decision remained: No!!!
Needless to say that the convention, including our booth and our hospitality suite was nearly empty for the whole duration of the event....The company clearly missed a great opportunity to foster good-will among their key target group. Especially important since they were planning the launch of their block buster medication 1 year later in the USA...
Ron Caruthers - Posted on September 12, 2006
Great article, as always, Denny. I loved what Chevron did after the earthquake. It reminds me of how Dell Computers lost me as a customer FOREVER after 9/11. When September 11th hit, we had just purchased 4 office computers for a total of about $10,000 on a 4-year lease. To ensure they got paid, they IMMEDIATELY turned us over to a collection agency. Three days later . . . by September 14th... we were being hounded for a payment that wasn't even one day late by some agency. According to them, they just did it to ensure 'prompt payment'. Well, they may have gotten 'prompt payment', but because of the classless way they handled everything, I will never do business with them again. By the way, I've bought thousands of dollars of computers and accessories since then, and they are never even considered. Chevron has it right...they may lose a few dollars of interest, but the goodwill they generate you can't put a price on. Ron Caruthers