Comparing Katrina with 9/11

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, marketers are recalling the hard-won lessons of four years ago, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I told my leadership team that this is not unlike 9/11,” says Mike Muoio, president of Oshkosh, WI-based gifts and housewares merchant Miles Kimball. “This situation will have an effect for this year and next on oil, gas, and energy. It’s not good for our industry and not good for the general economy.”

The Gulf Coast region accounts for only about 1% of Miles Kimball’s sales. “We have quarantined all the zips that have been suppressed until the end this year. Those stuck in the third class mail stream will be rerouted to designated sectional centers where mail is kept,” Muoio says. The same goes for parcels.

Doug Brown, vice president of circulation for Boca Raton, FL-based women’s apparel mailer Boston Proper, notes that it’s been challenging to stick with a contingency plan. “We’re still working out the final details [regarding fall catalog mailings] at the printer, as things are still being evaluated based on postal delivery points,” he says. “Some decisions are based on day-by-day events and changes by the Postal Service, and others are based on geographical distribution. Both our printer and list house will stay on top of things as they happen.” (The Postal Service continues to provide a link to the status of suppressed zip codes in affected areas at www.usps.com, with updates posted daily.) Brown says that because Boston Proper’s business is skewed toward larger urban areas, less than 3% of its customer base has been affected by the disaster.

Though mailers need to be sensitive to those affected by the disaster, consultant Don Libey warns against reducing overall circulation and other customer contacts too drastically. “Companies that stopped prospecting after 9/11 took two full years to get back on their feet,” he says “I would advocate discontinuing both mailings and prospecting in the affected areas for the rest of the year, but it’s critical to prospect elsewhere.”

Libey believes that marketers can make up for the sales shortfalls in the areas hit by Katrina by expanding prospecting efforts in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Southwest, all of which have shown improved numbers during the past year.

“In terms of the b-to-b world, only about 10%-12% of the nation’s businesses have been directly affected by this situation,” Libey adds.

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