15 Things We Learned from Irma and Harvey

Our hearts and thoughts are with our friends and partners who work to recover and rebuild from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  And as our SmithGeiger team worked with stations in the path of these two massive storms, we gathered several takeaways that can help you plan for the next one...

1. TV is still very-much alive, especially when death and destruction might be on the horizon. Television still saw the majority of eyeballs during these events.

2. But the App and web were critical lifelines once power and evacuations became an issue. Stations saw huge bursts of App downloads prior to the storms, assuming they were properly and regularly teased in newscasts.

3. Where can I watch? It wasn't always 100% clear where we could watch the live stream, either on the web or App. Be sure this is super-obvious.

4. The Weather Channel is still a dominant source. This means we must always be conveying the power of our local brands and expertise.

5. Hurricanes are obviously still very hard to forecast.  And it's easy for the local mets to get blamed for strength and track changes. This is why it's important to always be reminding the consumer that "we're giving you the first look at potential impact - the moment this changes, you'll be the first to know."

6. Tone is critical: consumers respond best to empathy and advocacy mixed-in with a sense of updating and urgency.

7. Keep your mets front and center: switch into a morning mentality and feature your mets every 10-15 minutes during wall-to-wall coverage vs. getting caught-up in "secondary" coverage or overly-formatted segments.

8. Get me outside. In the middle of continuing coverage, beware of a tendency to get "stuck" on the anchor desk and full-screens, especially during phoners, etc. Always be looking to split the screen with live video or UGC.

9. Google still isn't great at indexing frequent updates. If you searched "Irma's track," the top results were often 7-10 hours old vs. the latest track that might have been released in the last few minutes. It's worth a SEO audit, and one way around this: work to get our most recent Tweets featured in Google searches.

10. Show off your live app and live Facebook efforts on-air at least every 15-30 minutes while encouraging UGC submissions.

11. Establish a digital center: staff it with an anchor and/or met. Show it off on-air.  Use it to "listen" for major issues, new incidents, and consumer feedback.

12. Power-up on power coverage: this is often the biggest impact. Get way ahead of this when the storm is coming in by offering resources, and reminding people that our digital platforms never go dark. Promise regular power updates on the app and social media. Deploy charging stations in the hardest hit areas.

13. Demonstrate the scope of your coverage. Viewers are attracted to the station with the field crews live in the most locations. Frequently layer in a sense you’re everywhere by using a multi-box of reporters.

14. Tell me more about the video. We saw many stations in markets not directly affected by the hurricanes allowing great video to turn into “wallpaper” - by not describing what we were seeing, where it was happening, when the video was shot. Even if the copy was urgent, the lack of process language muted the emotional impact of the video.

15. No matter where you live, connect your MET to big weather stories. We saw missed opportunities to better connect local METS (outside of Texas and Florida) to what was happening with Harvey and Irma. Yes, METS will need to keep doing LOCAL forecasting - but also tie them to the coverage of big stories and allow them to be the expert and offer perspective.

If you have some thoughts to share about your experience covering any big events like this, please send us a note at carcher@smithgeiger.com.