By Leah Knepper, Vice President
As Hurricane Dorian makes its way up the East Coast, I can’t help but think back to the events of September 2018. Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., on Sept. 14 last year. This is especially memorable given that Wrightsville Beach is one of our clients. We work with Wrightsville Beach, as well as nearby Carolina and Kure Beaches and Wilmington, through our work with the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). When a client is facing an impending crisis, it’s important they know you’re right there with them, to offer whatever support and counsel you can, whenever and for however long it’s needed.
We’ve gone through numerous hurricanes, tropical storms and near misses since we started working with the CVB in 2010. But Hurricane Florence was different. It was unlike anything the Wilmington area had experienced in many years. Wilmington and Island Beaches is heavily reliant on tourism – the tourism industry there supports over 6,300 jobs. According to an annual study, the county-wide economic impact from domestic travel for 2017 in New Hanover County was estimated at more than $587 million. With this in mind, we knew our marketing efforts following the storm would be crucial to helping the area’s tourism community recover.
As soon as we saw there was a good possibility Florence was headed towards Wilmington, we worked with the CVB to formulate a multi-phase, integrated marketing plan. The plan was intended to not only accurately showcase the destination’s status in the days and weeks following the storm, but also welcome visitors back and encourage visitation for the remainder of 2018 and beyond. The area was hit hard. In the days and weeks following the storm, Wilmington and its beaches were cut off from the rest of the state due to flooding and road closures on all of the major highways leading into and out of the region. But the area and its people are resilient: Many of the area’s signature attractions and iconic structures were fortunate to experience minimal damage from the storm. Local officials, business owners, residents and volunteers worked hard to quickly get things back up and running following the storm. In early October, just a couple of weeks after Hurricane Florence came ashore, the CVB officially announced Wilmington and Island Beaches was open for business and eager to welcome visitors back.
Cleanup and recovery efforts continued through the remainder of 2018 and well into 2019, with some residential areas in particular still not completely back to normal even as Hurricane Dorian threatens the Wilmington area once again. FWV’s marketing efforts also continued well into 2019, culminating with a media FAM trip that brought national media outlets that had previously covered Hurricane Florence back to the area to see for themselves the destination had made a comeback. Our earned media efforts generated nearly 50 million impressions and an estimated $5 million in PR value, and our social media and paid influencer campaign generated millions of videos views and impressions. We even collaborated with One Tree Hill stars who were in town for the annual “Return to Tree Hill” conference to showcase the destination’s recovery to the scores of adoring fans that fell in love with Wilmington as the site of the popular WB drama series.
One of the things that stood out to me about Hurricane Florence was how many of our clients were impacted by the storm. While it’s obvious the CVB would be hugely affected, clients like the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission were quickly thrust into the spotlight as we started receiving inquiries from national business outlets and the AP asking whether there were going to be sweetpotatoes for Thanksgiving (North Carolina produces nearly 60% of the country’s sweetpotato supply as the No. 1 producer of sweetpotatoes in the U.S.). PSCU, a credit union service organization based in St. Petersburg, Fla., quickly sprang into action to not only secure its headquarters and contact center in St. Pete, but also to provide whatever support it could for its Owner credit unions in the storm’s path. Trade media outlets wanted to know what PSCU was doing in preparation for and following the storm. Even one of our local clients – Moe’s Southwest Grill of the Triangle – was impacted when the storm resulted in store closures and delayed openings right here in the Raleigh area.
These clients and many others relied on us in the days and weeks leading up to and following the storm. This will likely be the case again with Hurricane Dorian and future natural disasters. As an agency, it’s important to think beyond the most obvious ramifications and consider how other clients may be impacted in both the short and long term, and even opportunities for them to be of assistance to those in need. We talk a lot about being partners with our clients, instead of vendors. Never is this more critical than in times of crisis.