Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — Brands come to rescue of Texas towns devastated by Hurricane Harvey

TODD SMITH — Brands come to rescue of Texas towns devastated by Hurricane Harvey


Hurricane Harvey wrought crippling destruction across Texas, killing dozens and injuring many more, inundating Houston and leaving a trail of devastation and thousands without food and shelter.

While many brands are using social media to encourage people to donate to the American Red Cross, some brands are taking that a step further, driving supplies to Texas, finding ways to provide shelter and helping families stay connected during the cataclysmic disaster.

Here is a sampling of how brands are helping, according to Adweek:


Airbnb activated its disaster response program, “Urgent Accommodations.” Anyone without a place to stay can go on Airbnb.com and find a spot with all service fees waived. Those with rooms to spare can also use the platform to list vacancies.

“Through our program, those in need of temporary accommodations as a result—including emergency relief workers and volunteers – are able to connect with Airbnb hosts in the San Antonio, Austin and Dallas areas who are opening their homes free of charge,” said Kellie Bentz, head of global disaster response and relief.

Amazon-Whole Foods

The new Amazon-Whole Foods duo is matching all donations made on Amazon’s website up to $1 million. All of the money will be donated to the American Red Cross’ Hurricane Harvey relief fund.


AT&T announced it will provide credits to customers in certain Texas communities affected by the storm who exceed their monthly data, voice or text charges.


Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya tweeted that the brand is doing its part to support Texas communities by loading up trucks with Chobani products to distribute to those in need.


Duracell marshaled its resources in the Lone Star state by handing out free batteries to anyone impacted by the storm.


PepsiCo, which includes brands such as Pepsi, Tropicana and Gatorade, is pledging $1 million to the American Red Cross from its PepsiCo Foundation.

“PepsiCo’s focus is on helping those in need during this difficult time,” Indra K. Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, said in a statement. “I’m proud that our people and our partners are coming together to provide critical support to help those in Harvey’s path sustain themselves during the storm and rebuild in its aftermath.”

United Airlines

United is offering miles to encourage its customers to donate to Hurricane Harvey relief. Any of the airline’s rewards members giving at least $50 will get 250 bonus miles. Those who donate more can get up to 1,000.


Verizon announced it will offer customers in qualifying Texas communities’ data relief. Customers in those areas who go over their data limit for that time period will get the total amount credited back to their accounts.

“In the coming days, Verizon will be deploying its Wireless Emergency Communication Centers, which are generator-powered mobile units on tractor trailers that have device charging and computer workstations, and wireless phones, tablets and other devices to contact friends, family and other important contacts over the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network,” a spokesperson for the brand said.


Walmart sent 795 truckloads of supplies to Texas, per a tweet from the brand’s action account. Most of the trucks were filled with water.

Email Marketing Still King in Audience Engagement

Email marketing is still king for audience engagement, even as other communications vehicles have driven onto the scene in our digital age.

Nine in 10 marketers in North America say they use email to engage their audience, according to a survey by Winterberry Group and the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), the most commonly used channel over digital display, owned web content and search.

“While there is concern that newer messaging platforms will cannibalize the email audience, in general younger cohorts remain loyal to email. Still, as email volume increasingly grows each year, it’s likely that users are becoming more particular about their desire for more tailored messages,” said eMarketer analyst Jillian Ryan, author of the new study, “Email Marketing Benchmarks 2017: Metrics Steady as Data Creates Better Context and Relevance.”

Email’s dominance holds true across industries. A May 2017 survey from DMA and Demand Metric of U.S. marketers found that all of those working in health care or pharma as well as travel and hospitality used email marketing. Nonprofits (96 percent), publishing and media (93 percent) and business-to-business (B2B) services (90 percent) were also strong adopters of email. Among the industries that were broken out, marketers in retail said they used email the least, although usage was a still-healthy 81 percent.

Email marketers are mainly focused on acquisition, according to research from Campaigner. More than two-thirds (67.0 percent) of respondents polled last December cited attracting new customers as a leading marketing goal for 2017. Increased brand awareness and customer retention were also common goals, named by 44.8 percent of 40.6 percent of marketers, respectively.

The number of emails being sent and received is also expanding. According to a February 2017 forecast from the Radicati Group, 269 billion emails, including business and consumer emails, will be sent worldwide –every day. Annually, that number will grow by about 4.4 percent; by 2021, 319.6 billion emails will be sent and received daily.

Marketers continue to allocate more budget to email marketing. A 2016 survey from email service provider (ESP) Emma found that 58 percent of marketers in the country planned to increase email marketing in 2017 – a higher response than any other channel.

This continuation is partly due to its solid return on investment. According to an April 2017 report from Econsultancy in association with Adestra, 73 percent of in-house marketers worldwide said that email marketing provided a strong ROI in 2017, making it the marketing tactic that received the highest percentage of responses in the survey, even slightly in front of SEO. Back in 2008, SEO ranked higher than email.

Clearly, email continues to bring in revenue. According to a June report from OneSpot, conducted by The Relevancy Group, US marketing executives said email attributed 21 percent of the total revenues in second quarter 2017, up 17 percent year over year.

Pay-per-view Took it On Chin During Mayweather – McGregor Fight

Pay-per-view was dealt a heavy blow – though probably not a knockout – from live-streaming apps that are likely to only get faster in the future.

Nearly 3 million people watched the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight for free on live streaming services, according to security firm Irdeto. Showtime, which broadcast the fight on its cable TV channel as well as its streaming pay-per-view site and via an app for $99, has not released audience numbers for the event.

The free broadcasts were simple: someone holding a smartphone in front of their TV screen and sharing paid event live on Facebook, Twitter’s Periscope, Instagram, YouTube and others.

As these apps advertise the ease of going live by tapping a button, pay-per-view (PPV) promoters such as Showtime face increased threats to a business model that revolves around convincing customers they need to pony up for a must-see event.

Pay-per-view has traditionally been the domain of cable and satellite operators, used primarily for big-ticket sporting events like boxing and wrestling. In recent years, with the advent of streaming and on-demand video rentals from Apple’s iTunes and the cable providers themselves, PPV has been used more selectively for these big events.

Heroic Mic: First responders, regular folks rally to help Hurricane Harvey victims

The Coast Guard and the other branches of military have made more than 16,000 rescues in Houston since Hurricane Harvey hit. Other first responders, including helpers from across Tennessee and the rest of the country descended on Texas. Then there was the outpouring of regular citizens and a Good Samaritan army that added to the heroism.

From the “Cajun Navy” — a group of recreational boat owners and volunteers who helped the rescue effort – to a chain of Houston mattress stores known for its TV ads that opened its locations to serve as makeshift shelters, heroes emerged from the rising waters to offer hope and a helping hand.

It’s the same spirit of unity that took place after 9/11, when Mister Rogers came out of retirement to tell everyone to “look for the helpers.” In the bleakest depths of a disaster, he noted, average people step up alongside emergency responders to become heroes. And these Hurricane Harvey heroes have helped save countless lives while bringing the light of unity and inspiration to the shadows of disaster.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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