22 years ago today, I was standing in the middle of the street. It was early in the morning with the sun still rising. I was barely dressed wearing only what I could grab in the dark as I ran out of the shaking building. No cell phone and no idea where my car keys landed. As we waited to find out what was really going on all I could do was listen to wailing and crying that rose above the sirens and the smoking buildings surrounding me. I was desperately trying to figure out how I could drive my car across town, splattered with huge holes in the streets, to see if my family had survived this intense earthquake having no idea that I was standing in the middle of the epicenter of the Northridge Earthquake.
I found my family safe about 10a, after ‘stealing’ a car that I found with keys in it, a full 6 hours after the earth stopped shaking. The townhouse I had just purchased was not so lucky – eventually condemned by FEMA. I spent the next two weeks without power or water camping in front of the crumbling townhouse as armed military tried to keep the peace and service workers helped other less fortunate.
While I could detail intense stories of how terrible this day was, I truly only remember how incredible the human spirit became on that day… people banned together for weeks after the quake. Strangers helping strangers. Whatever I physically lost that day (which was a lot) I gained in renewed spirit from the goodness I got to witness as people rebuilt each other mentally, physically and spiritually through the chaos. That’s what I remember of the 94′ Northridge Quake.
This is why surviving business tragedies with my clients and my own company, Synergixx, has never really been that difficult for me. You see, I have perspective.
Five years ago, on Easter morning, a long time client called up panicked because his merchant accounts had been shut down without warning due to the % of his product returns being too high. This was one of many of the rude awakenings in 2010 in the direct response world of advertising. “I’ll be out of business by next week!” He was panicked. Being able to supply fast analytics to the merchant processor we had him back online within 48 hours.
I remember a call that came at 11:37 pm on a Wed from a client saying, “I’m going to lose my media funding next week because the orders aren’t coming in fast enough.” A phone script and offer change put into effect within 24 hours help avoid this crisis.
The client who showed up unexpectedly on a Tues morning explaining how he had blown his entire marketing budget on a TV ad he had created with my competitor that wasn’t pulling any calls and how his Venture Capital firm had issued a 90 day warning on performance. He was going to lose all his backing and admitted to me that he “will lose $250K of personal money.” The production was fixable and we did it within 30 days and it is still running 2 years later.
The client who had their lead talent walk off the set in the middle of a very expensive TV shoot over a contractual dispute. “Now what am I going to do?” We replaced that talent the same day and never went into overtime.
And the client who lost his entire call center during Hurricane Sandy with no back-up center. “How will we get back online fast enough?” Using some McGuyver like solutions we figured out how to answer his calls remotely without any training and secure his orders.
While it make sound like I’m tooting Synergixx’s horn, you must understand that in each of these cases Synergixx would have been dramatically affected if these campaigns failed. We were joined at the business partner hip, so to speak. While letting client’s freak out a little on the phone I had to keep my own perspective as a business owner so I could keep the cool head. I learned with each client experience to become unflappable because there was always help to be had if you trusted the business community you built around you.
What I have found in business is that most people fail at projects because they become paralyzed by the situation, the shaking, the smoke clouds, the sirens going off all around them. More importantly, they fail because they don’t ask for help with clear intention fearing that those around them will not help or even take advantage of their temporary weakened exposure.
During that earthquake that killed many and scarred thousands I learned the power of community and that people genuinely want to see each other succeed. That no matter how dire the situation there is a creative way to get through it. After you survive crawling through the rubble of a collapsing building, concrete falling on you, to grab the purse filled with medication for the 80 year old woman convinced she will die without it, you gain perspective. This is one of the many reasons the tragedy in 94′ has made me so unflappable in business – none of my clients have ever asked something of me so extreme as that lady did. I wasn’t being brave really but rather paying it forward for the stranger who lifted up a concrete slab to rescue my dog trapped underneath.
Like in life and business, it is amazing what can be survived, revived and made to thrive when you trust in the human spirit and the business relationships you have cultivated. Look to your vendors in times of crisis to get you through your toughest campaign challenges. Chances are they have survived something similar and would love to pay it forward.