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Case Study

Weathering the Storm for All of Our Clients

Hurricane Irma

Beach Family

Planned. Prepared. Proactive.

When a disaster strikes a destination, especially natural disasters, preparation and communication are key. Luckily for all our clients, Aqua excels at emergency preparedness and communication before, during, and after disasters strike. Not only can Aqua guide a client through any emergency, directing them on how to respond effectively through the entire range of communications options, but we’ve proven that we can lead several different clients through a crisis all at once with outstanding efficiency. This was put to the test in 2017, when Hurricane Irma threatened the state of Florida and all of Aqua’s Florida-based clients.

Marketing Emergency

Aqua provides marketing services for a variety of clients in different industries. However, our biggest concentration is in the destination marketing industry. As such, clients rely on Aqua to drive area visitation to their destinations. So when an emergency or natural disaster threatens one of our clients, Aqua’s primary objective is to limit the situation’s negative impact on visitation as much as possible. And the best way to do that is by influencing the public’s perception regarding the incident. If a destination is affected, we work to be sure the public accurately understands the affected area’s true status. Afterward, we work to quickly rebuild visitation. And since it’s all about affecting perception, many times a destination isn’t affected, but the public’s perception still needs to be addressed or countered.

At the end of the day, it’s all about protecting our clients’ visitation economies, assuring that the perceptions surrounding a crisis are controlled to the client’s benefit. When Hurricane Irma carved a path through Florida, making the distinction between hit or missed was crucial for all Florida-based clients.


How do you prepare for the unexpected? Because disasters of all kinds can strike seemingly out of nowhere at any time, Aqua prepares detailed communications Crisis Plans for each client outlining responses and tactics to nearly any conceivable event. This includes how to respond before, during, and after a crisis, and is divided into: General Actions, In-Region Communications/Actions, and External Communications/Actions.

Having an Crisis Plan on hand saves critical time and resources, and provides a solid action plan that can be immediately implemented by every member of the executive, communications, and operations teams in the event of a crisis.

Because speed is key, Aqua works with clients to assure that they already have press release templates, pre-approved advertising messaging, radio and TV spots, and budgets set aside to respond to any crisis regardless if the destination is impacted by an emergency situation. For hurricanes specifically, Aqua prepares “All Clear” and “Hit” messages well before hurricane season even begins so that advertising and PR can respond as soon as possible.

Bradenton Emergency Guide

The Hurricane Hits

The days leading up to Irma’s eventual landfall were a rollercoaster of anxiety and relief. Reports changed by the hour predicting the storm’s path. Media was halted before the storm hit, ensuring people wouldn’t see ads promoting sunny beaches while reports flooded the news stations of widespread devastation. Aqua even evacuated its St. Petersburg offices the day before and for a few days following the storm hitting the state, and staff worked from home (some without power) to ensure clients were served. In the end, the impact to Aqua’s clients ranged from mild damage to completely missed.

However, the story spread by news outlets was that Florida had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma. Potential travelers living thousands of miles away were under the false assumption the entire state was in disarray. In reality none of Aqua’s clients were impacted too severely, and some were completely fine reporting clear skies. Aqua monitored news and social media sources to determine what information was being reported and the publics perceptions regarding the incident.

The pre-made press releases and creative ensured the story being told was one of clear skies and clean beaches when applicable. For those destination’s impacted by the storm, press releases went to pre-selected media outlets (in accordance with the Crisis Plan) to give an accurate account of the damage and an estimated timeframe for recovery. Finally, while some clients were spared from the storm, they still hosted emergency response teams and displaced residents for neighboring communities hit by the storm, and press releases and creative efforts reflected their spirit of compassion and community.


Aqua managed all its clients, each impacted in varying levels of severity by the storm, throughout the entire process. This included communicating evacuation orders before the storm, providing updates for all clients across individual social channels during the storm, and assessing the damage (or lack thereof) after the storm and responding accordingly. All clients returned to record-breaking tourism numbers, some faster than others depending on how close the storm got to their destinations, and proved the usefulness and necessity of a well-thought-out Crisis Plan.

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