Katrina: catastrophies always bring out the opportunists

Since watching the awesome and rather frightening satellite imagery from the National Weather Service as Katrina slowly but inexorably made her way into Louisiana and Mississippi, I’ve been rather overwhelmed at the human cost of this tragedy. It’s another instance of what I refer to as the Hammer of God, when we’re reminded that however much technology we have, however much we smugly conclude that we’ve mastered the tectonic and meteorological nuances of our planet, we’re still just feathers in the cosmic winds…
As I have in the past, I strongly encourage everyone to eschew going to a movie, skip a frappuccino or two, and even have a sandwich at home instead of a fancy dinner out, sending your money, even just $20 or $30, to a reputable and legitimate charitable organization to help out those people devastated by Katrina and its aftermath.
But here’s what I find most depressing about the aftermath of natural disasters: for every person who tries to help, there’s another trying to exploit our desire to help those in need, to steal just a tiny bit of limelight for themselves.
Let me tell you about some of the email I’ve received…


First up, an email from someone I met at an online marketing workshop a few months ago. She writes to me saying “I’m going to be issuing a press release about this tomorrow, but I’m going to donate a percentage of my sales to Katrina relief funds. Can you blog about it so I can gain more visibility, please?”
Uh, no I can’t. In fact, I have to admit that I am apalled by companies that send out press releases touting their “wonderful humanitarian efforts”. This is just trying to ride the coattails of disaster for personal gain, in my opinion. You want to impress me? Just donate a percentage of your sales without telling anyone. Okay, that’s hard for a business to do, so I’ll compromise: add something to your site letting your customers know about your humanitarian gesture. But for goodness sake, don’t send out a bloody press release about it.
That’s what I’ll call “coattails marketing” for lack of a better phrase. There are other, albeit less offensive, email that I’ve also received from people, that basically go like this: “We’re going to have National Katrina Relief Blog Day tomorrow and I’m hoping you’ll link to my site where I talk about it”.
Not a terrible gesture, but, again, if you want to impress me with your humanitarian efforts, why not just send me a pre-written blog entry or a list of a half-dozen vetted charities that I can blog about myself? Are you doing this to gain traffic to your blog or Web site, or are you doing this to help out those most in need?
Finally, I applaud efforts to have ‘relief day’ and similar, but I’d much rather write about the devastation of Katrina and the many avenues for relief on a different day to everyone else: for one reason, sales professionals already know that you need 2-3 “touches” before you’re ready to take an action, however noble or important, but more importantly if we spread out the encouragement for people to get involved, even in the smallest way, then we’ll all collectively be more effective at raising money and helping out.
Personally, I channel my contributions to the American Red Cross if it’s a domestic tragedy, and to UNICEF if it’s overseas.
Here’s an easy-to-click link to make your own donation to the American Red Cross:

Donate to the American Red Cross

Take a minute and donate a few dollars. If we all donated just $20, that would go a surprisingly long way to helping out the thousands of people in truly dire straits right now.
And if you’re pulling out your copy of The Prince to figure out how you can leverage this disaster or make a buck off it, please, go back under your rock.

7 comments on “Katrina: catastrophies always bring out the opportunists

  1. You’re way to hard on the person that wrote to you saying their firm was donating a portion of their business to the disaster. You should care that someone is trying to help. So what if there’s some commercialism mixed in. Do you think all the cargo companies sending aid to the hurricane area are doing it for free? Give them a break. Also – she’s doing exactly what you and Scoble talked about at the BBS (which I didn’t attend but read through Rajesh’s blog). If a firm can get a little extra business because they’re holding up their hand and saying “we’ll help out those in need” – that’s a good thing – and I want to know about those firms. There’s a good chance my business might go their way.

  2. You are right Dave, catastrophies always bring opportunists into the scene. Just search on Google for “hurricane katrina” and see who uses adwords – temporary housing rentals, hurricane protection, weather reports, and others. I don’t see an American Red Cross ad and this is because they are really helping and not trying to profit from a disaster.
    Sure maybe some of those people that pay like $0.25/click on adwords really help but I doubt they are doing this exclusively to help the ones struck by the hurricane; there is one website (helpwithkatrina) that is created using a sales letter template – has a blog created for this too and is rasing funds – I’m not accusing or anything but do you feel that it does that only to help others?
    Anyway, I agree with you on this, if they want to help they just have to do it without bragging, because people that really want to help concentrate their money/time on helping, not on promoting their “donations”.
    P.S. I’m also wondering what takes so long for “donation emails” from Nigeria (among others) to arrive in my inbox?

  3. Here’s a new one that arrived this morning in my mailbox: an apparently legitimate news message with the subject “Re: l3 80 percent of our city underwater.” and the body:
    “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuesday that Hurricane Katrina killed as many as 80 people in his state and burst levees in Louisiana flooded New Orleans.
    “Just before daybreak Tuesday, Katrina, now a tropical storm, was 35 miles northeast of Tupelo, Miss., moving north-northeast with winds of 50 mph. Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said the amount of rainfall has been adjusted downward Monday.
    “Read More..”
    You click on the included link (which I am not, for obvious reasons, including here) and you’re on a Viagra sales site. Now I know that spammers don’t care, and that they try to trick you into going to their sites, but even for lowly spammers, this is a pretty blechy tactic.

  4. Hi Claudiu,
    This is Greg from HelpWithKatrina.com. I just found your post and found it interesting. Yes, we are a legit group and we ARE helping people. The adwords you see are being donated by fellow internet marketers who, as their donation, agreed to help us spread the word about our site and what we are doing. If you wanted to question our actions, please go to our website and read about what we are doing to help people, rather than make accusations like this in public.
    My full contact information is on the website if you have any any questions, but I do not appreciate being accused of taking advantage of a crisis situation, when in fact I am dedicating 15 hours a day to HELPING people in need.
    Regards,
    Greg

  5. You guys need to look for the good in people besides focusing on the bad.
    Yes there are a small percentage of people who are going to take advantage of the situation.
    However, there are also a small percentage of people who are actually taking action on their ideas to help those in need(http://www.hilltoprescue.org/) and (http://www.helpwithkatrina.com/) – this is legit despite what you may think. The Google Adwords campaigns were DONATED by fellow internet marketers to help raise further awareness – that in my books is a GREAT idea to try and spread the “good” even further.
    Focus on the good and help spread the idea of actually helping rather than knock others who are trying.
    Personally I’d much rather support relief efforts from individuals who have the courage to just dedicate themselves to a cause and shed light on what is actually going on through their blogs, pictures, newsletters ect.
    At least they are active and helping at a grassroots level. It’s easy to just sit at home and donate to Red Cross (and I’m not knocking that in any way) but let’s recognize those people who are personally dedicating themselves in the disaster areas as well.
    That’s my 2 cents.

  6. Hello Mr. Dave,
    I’m moved by your noble thoughts. Its nice to see that you are a person of great character and integrity. Integrity, character e.t.c are becoming outdated and obsolete these days.
    As you said “Hammering of God”, I recall Thomas Alva Edison’s words, “Its obvious that we don’t know one millionth of one percent about anything.”
    After all God is the ultimate creator. There cant be any better innovator and creator than Him.

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