When the unthinkable happens, the natural human response is typically “What can I do to help?” For companies committed to publicly living their brand values and giving back to their communities, it also presents an opportunity to demonstrate those values through a proactive PR strategy.

As news of the Orlando massacre spread across the country, New York-based JetBlue and its employees acted on the impulse to help. Orlando is one of the communities that the airline serves. The city is also home to many of its crew and some of the company’s support services. JetBlue quickly offered free flights to family members and domestic partners of the victims.

For those traveling to or from the Orlando area in the aftermath of the event, JetBlue also waived its ticket change fees to make interrupting travel plans easier.

4 Simple Ways to Be Authentic

The reason this didn’t come across as a calculated move to capitalize on a trending news story is that JetBlue did the right thing by its customers in accordance with its brand values. The positive PR that followed in the form of social media posts and news coverage was entirely authentic and easy to share.

Companies that want to act in a similarly authentic way can start by incorporating the following elements into their plans of action:

  • Focus on the need, not on how your actions will look. When a firm meets to discuss what it should or can do, the focus should be entirely on the impacted community’s need, not on what taking the action will mean for the firm. JetBlue appears to have focused its attention on the immediate need — getting impacted travelers where they needed to go.
  • Get the whole organization on board. Make sure every member of the leadership team knows how the company wants to react to crises.When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, I led the Walmart media relations team’s efforts. I saw teamwork and purpose at its best. We had daily meetings in the emergency command center, trying to get food and water down there. That was the main purpose of the efforts: survival! We had merchandisers to make sure there were enough product, distribution, and logistics employees to ensure the product got there; operations empowering their teams to make things happen locally; HR making sure employees were employed and paid regardless of their location; and much more. It was everyone sitting together, watching the weather, talking, and collaborating.
  • Play to your strengths. The airline used what it had — seats and service to the impacted area — to make a difference. As a natural extension of its business model, this made its actions far more authentic than pledging money to a cause or running an ad.
  • Trust your employees to know what matters. Thanks to its culture, JetBlue’s employees were confident that they had the discretion to take action on their own. During a flight that included the grandmother of a victim as a passenger, the attendants took it upon themselves to circulate a card, thinking it would be nice to let the grief-stricken woman know that her fellow travelers shared in her loss. The outpouring of sympathy extended beyond the original card onto extra pages and into the plane’s aisles by the end of the flight. Deplaning took longer than usual as the passengers filed past the woman, expressing their feelings with words and hugs.

The JetBlue response is only the latest example of proactive PR done right. But it highlights the need for companies to have a response process and perhaps even a team ready to go when a situation arises. Such processes don’t have to be complex. In fact, Teddy Roosevelt inadvertently offered a succinct strategic outline when he said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”