November 23, 2014

Finding Small Business PR Opportunity In Tragedy

We’ve all seen the pictures. We’ve all seen the videos. Heck, we’ve all seen plenty of Facebook updates and Tweets from people who were actually on the ship. Last month’s cruise ship disaster on the Costa Concordia off the Italian coast offered little in the area of positives.

costa concordia

But hold on a second. There might just be a silver lining here and small business could be a big part of it.

When you think of public relations (PR) and the cruise ship disaster you probably think of the PR nightmare the cruise ship company (Carnival Cruise Lines is the parent company) had to deal with in the ensuing days, weeks and soon-to-be-months following the disaster. You are not wrong in this assessment. No doubt, it’s been a big lesson in crisis PR.

But there is actually an opportunity to be had from this and other crisis that have unfolded before our eyes, Blackberries and iPhones. On any given day it would be nearly impossible for a local travel agent to capture the attention of a CNN producer or USA Today reporter, but that is exactly what happened to CruiseOne franchisee, Amber Blecker. It would also be nearly impossible for a local restaurant in New Orleans or oil boom manufacturer to get the attention of FOX News or The New York Times. But while some face crisis, others see opportunity.

Local travel agents have an opportunity to chat with reporters when a major cruise ship situation occurs anywhere in the world much like an oil boom manufacturer is in demand when a BP oil well ruptures in the Gulf of Mexico.

Whether it is Carnival Cruise Lines, BP, Tiger Woods or a political candidate embarrassing themselves on social media, news stories occur as a result of tragedy and the following days are filled with plenty of talking heads serving as subject-matter experts. These experts can and should be represented by small businesses that have something to add to the story.

This is not ambulance chasing. This is a PR opportunity. See, the story is going to be written whether you think it is fair or not. Small business owners can and should seize the opportunity and get their company in the news, positioning themselves as a subject expert. Some might think this is capitalizing on someone else’s mess. The truth is, it is an opportunity for a small business to feed the news machine with information that is ultimately going to be distributed anyways. And If you are not participating in the story, your competitor will be more than happy to give information and a quote.

To be fair, this is certainly not the time to be promoting special deals. But it is appropriate to provide information and perspective interested viewers and readers want to learn. More importantly, you will develop a relationship with a key national reporter who may or may not listen to a story pitch a few years later when you have an idea for a different story.

The 24-hour news cycle is filled with plenty of news that is not very positive. As a small business owner you have an opportunity to see where you fit in with the story line and offer up your insight. The ensuing coverage will position you as an expert and just might lead to a few people who want to learn more about you and your business.

Tragedy happens almost daily in today’s world. In this tragedy, small businesses can find a PR opportunity.

Costa Concordia Photo via Shutterstock

1 Comment ▼

John Sternal


John Sternal John Sternal is co-founder of Sternal Communications, a PR and marketing consultancy helping businesses get noticed through publicity in the media. He is the author of the PR Toolkit for Small Busines and is currently authoring a book about DIY public relations for small business owners. For questions visit Understanding Marketing.

One Reaction

  1. Definitely an interesting article. Disaster creates opportunity, even when the disaster is massive like this one!

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