Cor­po­ra­tions’ re­sponse to tragedy re­quires care

The Beacon Herald - - OPINION - ROBIN BARANYAI

A na­tion of hockey towns is griev­ing. The fa­tal col­li­sion of the Hum­boldt Bron­cos team bus, cut­ting short 16 lives, has elicited re­sponses as var­ied as the coun­try it­self. The trib­utes have been deeply mov­ing: flags at half-mast; heart­felt songs; Ni­a­gara Falls awash in green and gold. And of course, thou­sands of hockey sticks lean­ing on porches, left out in sol­i­dar­ity and grief.

Count­less in­di­vid­u­als, com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses have sought con­crete ways to help. A Saska­toon blood clinic was over­whelmed with donors. P.E.I. is re­port­ing a mas­sive spike in or­gan donor registrations, ap­par­ently in­spired by Lo­gan Boulet, whose or­gans could save six lives. And thou­sands do­nated to a Go­FundMe cam­paign ben­e­fit­ting the team and fam­i­lies, which by Mon­day had be­come the plat­form’s most suc­cess­ful cam­paign in Canada, ever.

There is no sin­gle “right” way to re­spond to a tragedy. But there is a wrong way. And a few folks found it this week.

Tim Hor­tons nav­i­gated a mis­step when a fran­chisee in Fall River, N.S., sold dough­nuts in team colours “to hon­our the Hum­boldt Bron­cos” with­out ini­tially in­tend­ing to do­nate the pro­ceeds to the crash vic­tims, the StarMetro Hal­i­fax re­ported.

Tim Hor­tons sub­se­quently said the fran­chise owner had made a per­sonal do­na­tion and clar­i­fied dough­nut sales would sup­port the team, along with a broader fundrais­ing cam­paign. Its com­mu­nity ef­forts, in­clud­ing food and drink for fam­i­lies and first re­spon­ders, have been over­shad­owed by the blun­der, along with gen­eral cyn­i­cism over the com­pany’s des­per­a­tion to re­ha­bil­i­tate its “Cana­dian” im­age.

Nor­mally, char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions come with a public re­la­tions bump. And there’s no rea­son they shouldn’t, if the ges­ture is sin­cere. Good cor­po­rate cit­i­zen­ship is in­creas­ingly val­ued by con­sumers. But the ap­pear­ance of chas­ing pub­lic­ity can back­fire badly.

Most of the ma­jor cor­po­rate donors to the Go­FundMe cam­paign gave gen­er­ously with­out mak­ing a big so­cial me­dia splash. Those that did used their on­line reach to in­vite their fol­low­ers to join them in sup­port­ing the fund. Bauer even tem­po­rar­ily changed the wel­come page of its cor­po­rate web­site, putting up a team photo of the Bron­cos and a link to the cam­paign. (The com­pany did not im­me­di­ately re­spond whether it still con­sid­ered this an ur­gent need once the cam­paign had ex­ceeded its goal.)

It’s good busi­ness to sup­port the com­mu­nity that sup­ports your busi­ness. But most cor­po­rate ges­tures seem mo­ti­vated by a gen­uine de­sire to help, such as an air­line com­mit­ting larger air­craft to its Saska­toon routes to ac­com­mo­date those who needed to get to

Hum­boldt, and a ho­tel chain of­fer­ing a free night’s stay to fam­ily mem­bers who needed to be close to the hos­pi­tal.

Pro­mot­ing such of­fers with the hash­tag #Hum­boldtStrong is a le­git­i­mate so­cial me­dia tac­tic to help their mes­sage reach their tar­get de­mo­graphic.

Other ser­vice providers used #Hum­boldtStrong to pro­mote fundrais­ers based on what­ever they had to of­fer: pro­ceeds from meals served; yoga classes of­fered by do­na­tion; cup­cake fundrais­ers. These are busi­nesses pulling to­gether in the best tra­di­tion of com­mu­nity.

It was less heart­warm­ing to see “Hum­boldt Strong” used to pro­mote an east coast ra­dio sta­tion, which had cre­ated a playlist of “15 songs for mourn­ing.” The page states mu­sic “can have the power to heal or sup­port.” But us­ing a be­reaved com­mu­nity as an on­line mar­ket­ing ploy re­duces a tragedy to a lis­ti­cle.

There were other mis­steps — no­tably, a ladies ap­parel com­pany post­ing “Hum­boldt in our Hearts” — a nice sen­ti­ment, but for the com­pany logo in the cor­ner.

These are likely in­no­cent mis­takes. Many re­tail­ers use a stan­dard tem­plate for their on­line mar­ket­ing to en­sure brand con­sis­tency. But it’s clumsy. We should avoid the ap­pear­ance of cap­i­tal­iz­ing on tragedy.

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