Agencies, Businesses Hunker Down for Hurricane Matthew

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Miami ad agencies, and most other Miami businesses, closed today and many will continue working remotely on Friday, depending on how hard the area is slammed by Hurricane Matthew.

AB InBev has donated nine truckloads of water to the Red Cross.
AB InBev has donated nine truckloads of water to the Red Cross. Credit: ABInbev

"We closed the agency [Wednesday] at 2 p.m.," said Anselmo Ramos, founder and chief creative officer of Miami-based David, whose clients include Burger King and Coca-Cola. "We'll be closed today and tomorrow. Everyone will just work from home these two days. So, as long as we have electricity, it's business as usual!"

"We'd rather be on the safe side, so we decided to physically close the agency today and tomorrow," said José Mollá, founder and creative director of The Community. "We are online, working remotely, but we made it clear that the priority for everyone is to take care of their homes and families."

Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World closed at 5 p.m. on Thursday and will remain closed on Friday.

Anheuser-Busch InBev decided to send nine truckloads of emergency drinking water from its Cartersville, Ga. brewery to the Red Cross near Atlanta and several wholesalers in Florida -- a bigger donation than the one truckload of free drinking water the brewer typically sends to disaster areas.

Michael Goldberg, CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Zimmerman, said that before closing, the retail specialist had to do an audit of upcoming jobs to speed up production of all work needed for this weekend.

"The most critical thing for us that makes it more complex than most other companies is the continuous pace of retail and the hyper local need shifting that happens as a result of weather," Mr. Goldberg said. "Weather.com always needs to be our friend."

He said everyone is working remotely, with some staffers "deployed to our field offices, our production studio or being on-premise with clients." On Friday, execs will meet post-storm to assess whether a temporary HQ will be needed.

A departure board shows rows of cancelled flights at Miami International Airport.
A departure board shows rows of cancelled flights at Miami International Airport. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At Miami airport, flights didn't depart or land after noon on Thursday, and preemptive cancellations were being made for flights through Saturday. American Airlines, which has one of its busiest hubs in Miami, said Thursday afternoon that the airline hoped to resume limited service on Friday at Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach airports.

The Festival of Media Latin America, scheduled for Oct. 5-7 at the Turnberry Isle resort near Miami, was cancelled.

Another event, the annual U.S. Hispanic ad awards organized by Hispanic creatives' group Circulo Creativo, will go ahead in Miami on Oct. 12, but the onsite judging had to be switched to online judging, said Francisco Vargas, general manager of Circulo Creativo and the U.S.H. Idea Awards.

Business trips were postponed -- or extended for executives who were stranded. Mr. Mollá said that a team that went to New York to meet with client Verizon was told to stay there.

Jorge Plasencia, chairman-CEO of Miami agency Republica, said execs from a retail client came to Miami for meetings, and decided to stay through the storm. He said he had dinner with them Wednesday night, and will meet with them on Friday at Republica or, if the agency remains shut, a hotel.

Miami agencies tend to be veterans at hunkering down during tropical storms and have their hurricane checklists ready. Mr. Plasencia said Republica decided on Wednesday at 2 p.m. to close on Thursday, emailed clients, set up a hotline for employees to call in, and switched on the office voicemail that says the office is closed due to severe weather. Someone will check Republica's offices early Friday morning, and see if the building, which has its own generator, can re-open, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Plasencia, who has hurricane-impact windows at home but lives near the water, said he and his dog have gone to stay at his mother's house inland.

Agency execs said the worst of the storm looked likely to hit north of Miami, and that the city itself may have "dodged a big bullet," said Joe Zubi, chief operating officer of Zubi Advertising.

"I was on the fence yesterday whether to close," he said. He made up his mind while driving to a meeting with an account supervisor who had just bought a new house, where her dog would be alone in the storm. He said he sent an agency-wide email, saying "Thanks to Chantal's dog, you're getting the day off tomorrow."

At other Miami shops, CP&B closed Wednesday at noon, planning to re-open on Monday. At Y&R Miami, staffers worked late Tuesday to meet production deadlines, then the agency closed Wednesday at noon, and will decide tonight whether to re-open on Friday, although parents of young children can work from home due to school closures.

Mr. Mollá, who said he was watching his boats being buffeted by the wind, didn't expect Hurricane Matthew to be as bad as Hurricane Wilma in 2005, when power was out for days. During that disaster, his agency was in the middle of a big pitch and had to keep working. "We found the only little boutique hotel with power and rented all the conference rooms for a few days and made it our headquarters," he recalled. He won the pitch, for Remy Martin cognac.

Contributing: Judann Pollack, E.J. Schultz