StormWorks and What We’ve Learned From the Hurricane

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It’s a little hard to believe that today is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a storm that ravaged the East Coast and plunged much of the region into darkness. Even harder to believe that it was the second storm in two years to knock out all power…on almost the exact same day in October.

Up in the northern part of New Jersey, we lost power, and flooded. Many people lost their homes in flood-prone areas. But down at the Jersey shore, the destruction was more devastating, and our friends and neighbors in beach communities are still suffering. They remain in our thoughts and prayers.

At work, we can learn a lot from these nor’easter storms, which appear to be more frequent and ferocious. Let’s take a look at five things that we can learn from hurricane season and how these lessons may apply in our everyday workplace.

1. Prepare for the storm

During Hurricane Irene, we saw how long it can take to get the electricity back online. It is not something that typically lasts more than a day or two, but for many people, this time days rolled into weeks. The following year, people were better prepared. They had charged devices, flashlights, portable heaters, gasoline, and even generators. That storm was stronger but we were better prepared.

In the workplace, there are storms of a different kind. Even though we try to anticipate customer needs, we never know when a client will have an important need on short notice. If you’ve trained your teams to be reactionary, they will not be prepared for these last-minute requests. You can complain about the challenge and timing, or you can step up and get it done. Advertising and marketing are businesses that must be prepared to respond to the needs in the marketplace. Like having gasoline for your generator before the sky darkens for the storm, there are ways that we can prepare our staff for emergencies.

2. Follow the process

In schools and in most workplaces, we have fire-preparedness drills. While these fire drills seem a little silly, it’s important in the event of an emergency to avoid chaos and know where the exit signs are.

My RedWorks team is part of a centralized unit that provides services ranging from editorial, production, design and video. When there’s a client emergency, there’s usually some (or a large) request for my team’s services. We have process in place that both (a) manages existing project timelines and (b) responds to the client emergencies.

If managed effectively and everyone knows where they are supposed to go, you will limit the number and duplication of calls and emails. Plan and discuss the best way to divvy up work, particularly when there are other projects already in the work stream. As a manager, you must discuss emergency response before there’s an actual emergency, and then trust your people to make smart decisions.

3. Don’t cut corners

It can be tempting to cut corners to complete a last-minute request, but it’s just not a good idea. In the long run, you could actually cause more problems. Skipping a production step or an editorial check in order to save time could cause crucial errors. We’ve been able to streamline response time by following our documented processes. You don’t have time to tweak process during the middle of a client emergency.

Also, you don’t want to churn out poor work that you (and your client) will regret later. Sometimes the difference between mediocre and good is just a few steps. I’ve seen some great work emerge from designers and other creative people, simply because they kept a cool head, followed their process, and focused on their part in the workflow.

4. Apply what you have learned

After the first hurricane, a lot of people went back to life as usual. Others took the opportunity to stock up and prepare for the next epic storm. Just because our region lost power, it didn’t mean that the rest of the world stopped working. Those of us who lost electricity (and not our entire homes) had to keep working. The year before, we figured out ways to stay in touch, even when electricity was out in many neighborhoods.

We quite literally charged our devices in our cars and connected through telephones (remember those?) and email. WiFi is fast, but 3G wireless was keeping us connected. The next year, during Hurricane Sandy, we knew to take home the right files and equipment.

Beyond that, we prepared with our clients, particularly the local ones who were going to be hit by the same storm. It seemed a little awkward to exchange personal phone numbers, but we were glad we did. Many servers and websites were down, so we kept in contact in any way we could. We remembered what the previous year was like and planned around the actual stormfront that was coming.

We stayed on top of the work and kept the deliverables coming. We also learned a bit about each other as human beings. We made new friends and shared respect for each other on many levels. None of this would have happened if we hadn’t learned how to prepare from the previous storm.

5. Know your technology

If you’ll allow me to, I want to brag about my team for a moment. These are dedicated creative types who can blow you away with their skills. As such, we ensure that they are properly trained and keep up to date with the appropriate software and technology. We do like new tech, but we also respect the tech we have already mastered. We’ve seen competitors turn out award-winning creative work one year only to fall apart the next year. Often they are trying too hard to be the first people using new software, instead of just giving clients what they want and need.

It’s important to know your tools intimately enough that you can sit down on anybody’s machine and begin working. At one point last year, many people on our staff had lost use of their homes, so we met at a hotel that was reserved by our corporate team. We had dozens of people tapping away on laptops, and some people even had to share computers.

My team was composed of well-prepared professionals who knew how to use the technology to work effectively, back up their jobs, and find ways to deliver files to our vendors and clients. Having staff that is agile in their technical skills enabled us to plug and play during a challenging two weeks.

According to the weather reports, we’re living in an age of increasingly harsh storm conditions. High winds and flooding will continue to challenge us here in the Northeast, as storms by you will challenge you.

We have a responsibility to our clients, our teammates, and ourselves to be prepared to continue seamless delivery of great marketing and creative assets. The storms may slow us down, but we will remain focused and reliable.

The name Ogilvy stands for something, and we aspire to be the best. We’re a team, we’re strong, and we’re prepared for anything.

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