Danger Ahead—Piggybacking on Tragedy

Nothing is more important than communicating the right message to your network at the right place and time!  And  leveraging a news item or special day by connecting your organization’s issues to it (when relevant!) is a tried-and-true nonprofit marketing strategy with a strong ROI (return on investment).

Take a look at these campaigns that piggyback on Valentine’s Day and Earth Day, powerful examples of organizations that link their work to their audiences’ open-minded moments.

But extreme care is required when considering piggybacking on the anniversary of a tragedy. In that case, it’s vital that you understand how your audience feels about that particular event or day so you get the message right!

Take the Facebook post pictured above, from Girl Scouts of the USA, relating the Daisy badge for courage and strength to qualities demonstrated on September 11, 2001. Although I know the post was well intended—and goes on to honor the September 11 victims and their families—it seems a bit self-oriented, as if the organization aims to advance its agenda on the coattails of September 11 rather than paying the respect that’s deserved. And some of the commenters on this post feel the same, including the woman who is appalled that the post includes the price for the badge. I’m with her. (Update: GSUSA just posted a response to this complaint. Great social media stewardship, but they defended their approach. Commerce and 9/11 shouldn’t mix, especially for a nonprofit.)

My strong recommendation is that you be extremely careful in piggybacking on tragedy, especially one that’s still so raw, to advance your agenda. Sit it out or simply honor those involved, without tying the event back to your org’s work (at least on the day of, unless your organization was/is directly involved), as the Center for Non-Profits does here:

If you do launch a campaign, focus on those involved rather than your organization’s work. That’s far safer, and ultimately more productive, on a day like today when emotions are running high.

More on Relevance Rules: Your Key to Connection

How does your organization connect its communications to stories, news and events that are top of mind for your target audiences? And how (if at all) do you address a day like September 11? Please share your experiences and recommendations here.

P.S. Get peer guidance on doing the right marketing activities with the free Getting Attention Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom Guide.

Nancy Schwartz on September 11, 2012 in Relevance Rules | 5 comments
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  • My advise is do not piggyback on tragedy, not unless you are the Red Cross or similar type of organization that has been created to help in times of said tragedy.

    I worked for a very large real estate firm, national level, and their practice was to market strong during times of tragedy, such as earthquakes, wild fires, floods, etc. They felt that people still needed shelter in such times. I refused to develop ANY marketing collateral or campaigns around such a ghoulish practice.

    I also lost my job.

  • Kelley Coyner

    This morning my child’s fourth grade teacher had a note to the kids reminding them of the day and asking them to think that they could give back to our community in honor 9/11 heroes of all types. It struck me as exactly right– not self serving and appropriate to the kids. The school is about .5 miles from the Pentagon.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Kelley, I agree. That is right on the mark as a respectful and constructive response. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Alicia

    I agree. Today, I really wanted to post on our Facebook page that our thoughts were with the families of everyone impacted on the horrible day, but didn’t want anyone to think we were being self-serving, so contented myself with replying to any fan questions or comments on previous posts. By the way, good job on how fast you posted on this. The Girlscout post Facebook just happened 3 hours ago. I did like that they responded quickly with a reasonable answer to the fans questioning their judgement. As you mentioned, I think they were well-intentioned.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    It’s a tough call, Alicia, especially for peers who get pressured to leverage the day for the organization. You made the right one.

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