When FEMA officials assess the need for aid after a weather disaster in the Mid-Atlantic or Southeastern US, they consult two barometers: The Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, and how many Waffle Houses are open.
This is no joke. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the Waffle House is so well-known for staying open or quickly re-opening its restaurants during a weather emergency, their level of activity is a good indicator of how serious the disaster is. “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said, “That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.”
Recognizing a branding opportunity, the chain has been pro-actively marketing its resiliency to disasters; after Hurricane Katrina, Waffle House executives implemented a crisis response plan to speed up the re-opening of Waffle House locations after a disaster. Senior executives developed a manual for re-opening more quickly by bulking up on portable generators, buying a mobile command center, and giving employees key fobs with emergency contacts.
In a recent academic paper, Panos Kouvelis, a business-school professor at Washington University in St. Louis, pegged Waffle House as one of the top four companies for disaster response, with Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s.
At CommCore, we work with our clients to come up with “sticky” stories that create a strong visual representation of their brand or issue. Waffle House’s 40 years of building and maintaining simple, yellow, plain buildings with a large neon black and yellow sign towering above presents a powerful image when contrasted with the dark devastation of a hurricane or tornado. Waffle House is now activating a low-cost marketing strategy via the goodwill from disaster victims thrilled to find a place to eat that’s open. It also brings in revenue – customers happy to have a place during a disaster where they can spend their money to eat and find shelter.
What examples can you come up with of companies or brands that have turned crises or disaster response into a PR or marketing asset?