How b-to-b media operated during Superstorm Sandy

Nov. 7, 2012 – Hurricane Sandy did not come unexpected to the East Coast, but her long-lasting effects surprised many. For much of New York and New Jersey, the home to many media company headquarters, power was out and transportation was halted. But we are in the news business, and the news doesn’t stop. Despite these difficult hurdles (“How do I conduct a webinar when I have no web?”), many media businesses continued operations through workarounds and quick thinking. ABM talked to three executives – Robert Keenan, vice president of online media at Edgell Communications; Don Epstein, chairman and CEO of Greater Talent Network; and Bob Felsenthal, publisher of Crain Communications’s BtoB magazine – to find out how their businesses handled Superstorm Sandy.

Don Epstein, chairman and CEO, Greater Talent Network
Don Epstein

Our offices are located in an area of Manhattan which lost power Monday evening. Staff members who had power were able to work from home. We established a dedicated emergency website to keep them informed.

Following an established recovery plan, GTN's data systems were relocated to an alternate facility. Our speaker clients and customer sponsors kept us posted on conditions in their areas. We are grateful to them for their understanding and assistance in dealing with unprecedented flooding in our hometown.

The loss of power in the tri-state area made those with access to electricity our gateway to the outside world. Those with power invited their affected colleagues into their homes. Until the power returned Saturday, our staff shared what resources were available to keep our customers and speakers fully connected. We used Google's hosted e-mail and Amazon's EC2 cloud infrastructure to facilitate continued operations. To assure that all inbound phone calls reached essential staff members, we transferred our telecom system to Grasshopper virtual phone service.

Our toughest decisions were acting to cancel events that our customers and clients had spent months (or even years) preparing for. While these cancellations were disappointing to those involved, we are thankful that our decisions did not involve life-threatening situations.

Robert Keenan, vice president of online media, Edgell Communications
Robert Keenan

We kept our power through Monday night at 10 p.m. After that, we all went into remote working mode. Fortunately, our CRM and online systems are web based, so we were able to continue to run.

The biggest issues were power and connectivity. Prior to the storm, Edgell’s controller put together an emergency email and texting list. On a team basis, we also exchanged personal email and mobile phone accounts. So, while our email may have been down, teams were in constant communication and we were continually solving problems.

To put this in perspective, despite the storm, Edgell successfully delivered every one of its editorial newsletters last week. Additionally, our sites continued to run and all outbound audience marketing efforts continued. We also were able to reschedule Web events and execute a Web event. We did this all by keeping the communication channels open, and shifting tasks to employees not impacted by the storm. In our online media organization, we focus a lot on cross training, which allowed people to jump in and help execute tasks managed by another staff member without power. Additionally, we use the SalesForce CRM. Since this is a cloud-based solution, we could keep our sales team online and in communication with customers. In the past, that was a challenge in situations like last week.

We learned a lot from this storm. First, I think we’ll step up our cross-training efforts. By having people in place that could execute multiple tasks, we were able to keep our operations moving forward. I’d say that we also will re-look at our disaster recovery plan around email. We had a plan in place, but that plan didn’t run as smoothly as we’d like.

Bob Felsenthal, publisher of BtoB magazine, Crain Communications
Bob Felsenthal

Our staff in New York for BtoB magazine and btob online worked remotely even though our office building was open and not affected. We had some problems with people not having power or Internet access. Communications with those without power was difficult. One employee made great use of free Internet at Bloomingdales on Long Island, where he would visit a couch in the furniture department twice a day. He would download email, go home and work on it, go back [to Bloomingdales] to send out what work he had done and start the process again. Others used mobile services until they ran out of power, but some could not get cell service either.

Luckily, most of our content was not affected. Some client interaction was problematic, of course. Since we never lost power at the office, and some people were able to access networks, we had no problems that were insurmountable. But clearly, it was a wake-up call again for the future. 

By Elizabeth A. Reid