Natural disasters and health crises (often but not necessarily correlated) provide construction businesses exceptional opportunities and challenges. Rebuilding and recovery are expensive and seemingly impossibly daunting problems. There’s money to be made, in many circumstances, but it seems wrong to focus on profit when you are dealing with survival.
The way we respond to difficult circumstances reflects on our values and moral code — as well of course as legalities — and the choices made often in crisis and desperation live with us long after they are made. Horror stories of price gouging when supply and demand are totally out of whack obviously don’t build great brand reputations, but should you be penalized for legitimately offering scarce products and services at a reasonable profit or, at minimum, on a cost-recovery basis?
I had plenty of reason to think about these things yesterday as I cycled in a hospital charity event in near perfect weather here (Ottawa), as Hurricane Irma decimated the Caribbean and Florida.
Construction industry leaders in Ottawa have been the backbone of the cycling event that raised a bit more than $1 million for the hospital this year (and about $12 million overall), and they made their contributions without a disaster or crisis driving their commitment.
I suspect, however, that they would behave in a similar responsible way if a serious natural disaster hurt the local economy; they would do more than just conduct business or perhaps write a “support” cheque.
Is this sort of natural and “no expectation of reward” generosity good for business? Well, when you equate a solid brand with deep trust, then clearly there can’t be many better ways to build your brand and reputation than to be generous. Yet broadcasting the news and shouting it from the rooftop doesn’t help — in fact it could hurt — your efforts. (Certainly I react with revulsion when PR people try to pitch stories about their client’s purported generosity — if the charity does the publicizing without prompting from the donor, okay, but it just isn’t right to brag about your own generosity.)
Being good and doing the right thing aren’t public relations exercises. The positive branding resulting from your initiatives certainly can pay many times over, but you can’t win by making a big deal about the good you’ve done.
(As for the cycling, for me the participation is selfish. There are few better ways to improve health and do some good at the same time.)