Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

How a brand or a corporate organisation reacts in times of national disaster says a great deal about its values and culture. In an age when brands are increasingly looking to enlarge engagement with their consumers, how better than to engage in a time of critical need?

In the wake of the devastating fires that wreaked havoc in the Cape and resulted in the loss of hundreds of homes, many brands and organisations showed their compassion and heart by stepping in.

Absa, FNB and Standard Bank each donated R10m towards disaster relief. Absa also provided 5,600 Cape Epic tents for those who had lost their homes, while FNB made its branches in the area available as drop-off points for public donations and relief supplies.

Santam donated R1m towards relief efforts while Discovery set up a number of initiatives to help. The Discovery Fund contributed R750,000 to Gift of the Givers and set up the Vitality MoveToGive donation which allowed Vitality rewards to be donated to relief efforts. In addition, Discovery clients affected by the fires were assisted with food, transport and temporary accommodation.

Kulula offered 100 free flights to firefighters and offered cargo space on flights to transport donations from Johannesburg to Cape Town. In Knynsa, the local Spur served thousands of hamburgers to those displaced by the fires. Many local hotels offered free accommodation both to firefighters and to those who had lost their homes.

Many retailers contributed, for example Shoprite, Massmart (including Game and Makro), Woolworths and Checkers, as well as Pick n Pay, which gave consumers the opportunity to purchase goods through its online shopping portal which could then be distributed to victims of the fire, or to donate their Smart Shopper points. Tiger Brands and Pioneer Foods both gave food to the relief effort.

Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A number of courier companies donated their services. DHL opened up 39 locations across the country as drop-off points where people could drop emergency supplies, including nonperishable foods. The company then couriered all donated goods to the affected areas via both road and freight. SkyNet Worldwide Express offered free delivery from any of its SA branches to Knysna.

The Courierit group gave their services to the relief effort as well, and couriered donated goods, including clothing, bedding, blankets, food and even furniture, to the affected towns in the aftermath of the fires.

Jason Babulal, MD of Remailit/Freightit, and Giovanni Contaldi, MD of Courierit, echo the sentiments of many of the brands that displayed their compassion in the wake of the Garden Route fires. “We pride ourselves on our people-centred approach to business,” says Babulal. “When the opportunity arose to assist people after the fire tragedy we jumped at it. Though what we can do ourselves was limited, we were genuinely amazed at the public response and are proud of our small contribution to alleviate some of the impact of this immense tragedy. We are also aware that, once the smoke clears and the relief efforts are wound up, people have to piece their broken lives back together.  As a group, we remain committed to helping those affected. Our branches throughout the country will therefore remain available to receive humanitarian aid for those affected and we will consolidate and transport the aid to the area.”

Janine Hills, CEO of Vuma Reputation Management says it is vital for a caring brand to show compassion. “Building a reputation takes time, rapid action and shifting lives,” she says. “Brands need to make an impact to show they care. It’s about making a difference when it counts most.”

The big take-out: Caring brands need to make a difference when it counts the most, says reputation management expert Janine Hills.

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