Page 18

By David Lykken





n late October, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast, leaving a path of devastation behind. During the storm, controversy arose in the way some businesses sought to profit from the destruction. In what public relations expert David Meerman Scott calls “news jacking,” many companies used the storm as a platform for gaining media exposure. On the day of the storm, countless Web

Leadership and Generosity sites began posting articles trying to capitalize on Hurricane Sandy by promoting their businesses, products and/or services. One example was a Fortune 500 retailer who tweeted, “Did Hurricane Sandy affect your city? Get all of your generators, air mattresses, and more in one place … #HurricaneSandy.” Another example was a well-known clothing company which sent out an e-mail blast as the storm began,

which read, “In case you’re bored during the storm: 20% off of everything for the next 36 hours.” The executives at these companies only proved how out of touch they were with the seriousness of this situation. Don’t get me wrong ... I’m all for businesses making a profit, but some common sense would have seemed to have suggested a different approach. As the saying goes, “Not all press is good press.” People were dying. Companies that attempted to use Hurricane Sandy as a way to pitch their products send out one glaring message: “You matter to us if you are buying from us!” It seem to be more all about them. Where’s the concern for their customers? They only care about how much revenue they can get from the carnage—how well they can profit from the pain. And I don’t think people are fooled. They see the shortsightedness and self-interest of these sales pitches, and they’ll respond accordingly. But there’s another side to the story … a good side. Not all businesses used Hurricane Sandy as an opportunity for immediate profit. In fact, the more widely publicized stories during the Hurricane Sandy disaster are actually about those businesses which helped victims during the storm. Countless companies, large and small, contributed quickly and heavily to disaster relief. Guitar Center, a musical instrument retailer whose Facebook page has over 600,000 fans, posted this on its wall just after the storm: “For our East Coast friends affected by power outages as a result of Hurricane Sandy we are offering a place to charge your cell phones in all of our East Coast stores. We have power strips available to charge your phones. All stores are OPEN with power available. Stay safe!” Kohls, Home Depot, Verizon, CVS, the New York Yankees, and countless other organizations made cash donations of $100,000 and more to the American Red Cross. Chevrolet donated 50 full-size cargo vans for the relief efforts, CVS donated $50,000 in bottled water and snacks, Con Edison handed out free dry ice

from its seven locations in Brooklyn, and Home Depot stationed hundreds of supply trucks preloaded with supplies at strategic locations along the East Coast. The example these companies have set by their generosity is quite stunning. When we look at how responsive they were in pitching in for the relief efforts of Hurricane Sandy, we see them in a more favorable light. We see them, not as takers, but as givers. Instead of wanting to boycott them because of their selfishness, we instead want to buy from them because of their generosity. Did these companies lose money by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the relief efforts? On the surface, technically “yes” but in reality, it was an investment in humanity. Who are you going to buy from when the storm is over? The company that gave you a free wardrobe when yours was lost in the wreckage, or the company that tried to sell you a wardrobe when you had nothing to wear? For most of us, it’s a no-brainer. We reward those who help us when we are in need. Smart companies understand this. And the leaders of those companies—they know that growth comes from a spirit of generosity, not one of self-centeredness. The real question, though, is this: Why does it take a disaster to force companies into a spirit of generosity? Isn’t “giving” something that we should be doing all of the time? I would argue that it is. You don’t need a hurricane as an excuse to give back to your community. Great leaders make it a point to create a culture of giving in their organizations—no matter the season. Whether or not someone believes in God or not, most recognize that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Most get the concept that “You reap what you sow.” You get out of life what you put in. What goes around comes around. We’re all familiar with this philosophy, so why don’t we honor it in our business activities? I would like to challenge you as you lead your business into 2013 in a way that you