Execs Learn Power of Backup Generators -- and Cash Is King

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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- Ad agencies hit by Hurricane Wilma got by with a little help from their friends -- and employees, sibling shops, vendors and generators.

Photo: AP

The storm, which hit South Florida Oct. 24, left a wide swath of power outages and interrupted businesses. With power restored to the majority of businesses in the area, most are back to normal, but staying in business took more than a little creativity.

Miami Beach hotel for Crispin
Crispin Porter & Bogusky shipped graphic designers off to the Miami Beach hotel Eden Roc when power was lost. Beber Silverstein Group, whose Miami offices were closed for two years following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, brought two generators out of storage to power phones, file- and e-mail servers, and several Mac and PC workstations before power was restored eight days later, said partner Mitch Shapiro. “We had access to the tools we needed.”

With no power in its Coconut Grove offices, Turkel spent four days in the Miami Beach offices of production vendor Multivision Video & Film. Within three hours, a dozen Macs and PCs were aligned on a half dozen buffet tables in the conference room -- and all were linked via a wireless network -- as employees ate Subway, pizzas and Chinese food. “Thanks to the power of good friends and technology, we were able to completely replicate our offices,” said executive creative director Bruce Turkel, whose home remained without power as of Nov. 2.

Cash and generators
With its Boca Raton offices blacked out, WPP Worldwide’s Green Advertising, with 24 employees, received from Orlando sibling shop Stalder/Green a generator, five days’ worth of precious gasoline and two coolers of food. In addition, within a day, $10,000 cash was wired from Pace Advertising’s New York offices, said Phyllis Green, president. Employees shared time on four of 12 creative department Macs that were up and running. And with banks closed, $500 cash was given to each employee, including art director Cristin Jarson, who inline-skated three miles to work after her car was crushed.

Business attire was casual, and hours were changed to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to give employees time to deal with their damaged homes and to get off the roads by the 7 p.m. curfew. “The structure was very beneficial,” Ms. Green said, “not only getting the work out but elevating everyone’s mood.”

The agency is experienced with the routine: Last year, Hurricane Frances cut power for eight days. Now, executives are talking with local and national media to reschedule missed insertions or negotiate make-goods and credits.

More than a week after Wilma left Zimmerman without power, phones and Internet service at its Fort Lauderdale offices, more than two dozen staffers and executives still were working from agency locations in Atlanta, Chicago and sibling Omnicom shop TBWA/Chiat/Day in New York. Another 125 who had caravanned the day after the storm to the Daytona Beach offices of agency vendor Direct Mail Express remain there, said Michael Goldberg, the agency’s chief marketing officer.

Meeting deadlines
The agency didn’t miss a deadline, he boasts. By Oct. 25, van stocked with computers, copiers and printers was headed for Daytona. The day after that, staffers had generated 100 ads for its retail-heavy roster; within four days, some 400 ads had been shipped. The cost exceeded $100,000. On the three hour drive to Daytona, creatives even branded their effort as a rallying point for staffers -- “ZEMA,” for Zimmerman Emergency Management Agency, a takeoff on the much-maligned federal agency.

“Literally, within 36 hours, we had a full-service agency,” Mr. Goldberg said. “Because we have national retailers [as clients], they can’t just run the brand spot a little more if the agency doesn’t deliver.”

Loss of power was merely an inconvenience compared to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans, said Mr. Shapiro, who soon will huddle with his partners to discuss lessons learned. Mr. Turkel knows that all too well; Katrina destroyed the Gulfport, Miss., offices of client the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.

To an executive, all were reflective on the bonds built through the recovery process. Four rules most could agree upon: Be prepared, cash is king, rely on friends and vendors, and keep everything in perspective.

“You realize these people have a bond they will never lose,” Mr. Goldberg said, “and the sense of accomplishment shows what people can do when challenged like this.”

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