Friday, December 21, 2007

Out of the Ashes

Ever since a fire destroyed Alpinist’s inventory of back issues, calendars, water-bottle premiums and the like in early December, the magazine has offered a case study of effective PR and disaster response. The fire story and request for support through subscription purchases has been picked up by websites around the world, from Outside to Supertopo, Planet Mountain (Italy) to Mountain.ru (Russia). Even Climbing.com, one of my employers and a rival of Alpinist, ran a sympathetic home-page story, complete with links and the line: “If you were considering giving Alpinist as a gift or renewing your subscription, now's a great time to do so.”

What’s going on here? Some of this is a genuine outpouring of support for people who work hard at a small business and have had a serious setback. (I’m buying an Alpinist calendar that I probably wouldn’t buy otherwise; I’m already a subscriber.) Some of it is the perennial enthusiasm of magazine and website editors for writing about other magazines. Some of it reflects the huge reserve of good will that Alpinist has developed with its high-class publication.

But Alpinist also managed this disaster superbly:

• The magazine broke the story itself, on its website.
• They kept a positive tone (no one was injured; the support from the climbing community is gratifying; “we’ve put far too much work into Alpinist to let a fire slow us down.”)
• They asked for help, as a “favor”: subscribe, give a subscription, buy a calendar.

On balance, I’m sure Alpinist would much prefer the fire had never happened. But the magazine’s response to the disaster is likely to yield long-term benefits, and it offers lessons for all business managers.

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