Responding in an Instant: How Digital Campaigns Played a Role in Disaster Response in Texas

When a natural disaster hits, every second counts. Efficient digital campaign
deployment connects people with assistance when they need it most.

When a natural disaster hits, every second counts. Efficient digital campaign deployment connects people with assistance when they need it most.

The new stories coming out of Texas in February 2021 were devastating. People freezing to death in their own homes. Children going days without food. Hospitals without potable water. When Rebecca Walls, Executive Director at Unite DFW emailed us on a Friday afternoon, our team was ready to spring into action. With a deep passion for disaster response communication, our team knows every second counts. 

“What we’ve heard between Friday and today has been pretty unbelievable,” wrote Rebecca. “In a nutshell, millions of people across the state are without water to their homes and organizations, including hospitals, because their pipes burst. That’s the main lingering impact aside from the trauma of nearly freezing in the dark for three days and nights — some without food, water, or the ability to communicate with anyone.”

Rebecca leads Unite DFW, a vibrant collaboration of community partners in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Prior to the winter storm, Unite DFW was already doing the critical work of COVID-19 relief in the community, and our team had provided consulting on campaign deployment. When the storm hit, she adapted Unite’s community assistance dashboard to meet the moment with lightning speed. She raised funds, identified community resources, and added assistance of every kind into Unite’s searchable database. The next step? Get the word out that help was available. 

Within three hours of receiving Rebecca’s email, our team was able to launch a community-wide ad campaign sending traffic to the dashboard and matching people who needed help with the right opportunity to meet their needs. Over the next several weeks, the campaign connected people with resources ranging from food and water to emotional support and assistance navigating the system.


Campaign metrics between February 19 and March 1:

Ad Variants Created in 3 Hours
People Reached
Landing Page Views
Post Shares

Experience When it Counts

In 2019, our team helped form and serve the grassroots mission of Bahamas Relief Cruise, a West Palm Beach based, community disaster response to Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. Bahamas Relief Cruise was a trial by fire for our entry into disaster response communications. Megan Berame, our co-founder, acted as the initial communications coordinator for the effort, which became the first major relief ship to make it into port in Freeport, and a critical source of repair in the months that followed.

Since then, disaster communications have been an ongoing area of focus for Ashby & Gabriel. We have connected with disaster response organizations around the country, especially grassroots efforts which frequently lack access to more sophisticated communications strategies larger organizations have. 

What makes A & G a good fit for disaster response?

There’s a reason the typical agency model doesn’t translate well to disaster response: It’s formal, procedural, and expensive. We know in the moments following a disaster, speed, agility, and cost-efficiency are important. At A & G, we reimagine the agency model to meet the moment. It starts with a simple communications triage. What is the most important need right now? 

In Unite DFW’s case, Rebecca already had the digital infrastructure to assist the community effectively. Her biggest need was to put the resource into the hands of people who need it most.

We placed Facebook and Instagram ads to make that connection instantly. For disaster response projects, we develop initial campaigns on a case-by-case basis, instead of creating a comprehensive marketing strategy, although that may come later. This ensures a short runway between disaster and ad publication. Precise geographic and interest-based targeting allows us to put ads in front of the most affected communities immediately. We have experience translating unique community microcultures into clear campaign messages. Our depth of experience with social media platforms allows us to troubleshoot around the launch, and take pressure off of the organization’s team during a time when their availability has been stretched thin.

Are you looking to create an impact?

Let’s connect.