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Turkey and Syria Earthquake: How Are Agencies and Brands Responding?


Ten days after the 7.8 magnitude quake struck, the industry is rallying around but long-term help is still needed, writes LBB’s Laura Swinton

Turkey and Syria Earthquake: How Are Agencies and Brands Responding?
“On the first morning after the quake, it was hard to grasp the immensity of it. As time passed with the help of social media, the enormity of it became clear,” reflects Ela Gökkan. “Luckily, we are not directly affected but everybody knows someone who is directly affected. When an event of this scale happens, ordinary feelings like hunger and feeling cold become shameful. The moment you think about yourself, the people trying to survive in the earthquake zone come to your mind.”

Ela is CEO of MullenLowe Istanbul and like everyone else working in Turkish advertising, she’s spent the past ten days in a daze, trying to process the scale of desolation wreaked by the earthquake that hit central and southern Turkey and northern and western Syria on February 6th. 

At the time of writing, the death toll is nearly 42,000 but the number is rising all the time, including the very youngest members of society. Those in the region who have survived have found their homes and communities flattened. The loss and grief are beyond description. And even though Istanbul, the centre of the local advertising industry, is over 1000 kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake, everyone has been touched.

Since the crisis hit, the Turkish advertising industry has been pulling together to do what it can to get resources to people in the stricken areas. Ela recalls what happened in her own industry and also at a community level.

“In the first hours after the quake, we decided on donations and gathered help at a personal and company level. The requirements change every day, in the first days, it was medicine, batteries and space blankets to keep the people warm. At one point, with the Turkish Advertising Association and Turkish production companies, we sent electric generators to the region since there was no electricity,” she says. 

International Community Rallies

Thankfully those on the ground are not being left to figure out the crisis and rustle up support alone. People around the world have been moved to act.

Proving that you don’t need to be a multinational to make a difference, Oya Mustafa, director of business development at UK indie agency Recipe has been keen to make sure that people outside of Turkey and Syria are informed and keep the situation front of mind. She has created ‘Hopeless But Still Hopeful’, an impartial guide to the crisis, with regular updates and insight into local organisations to support. 

Pushing things further, Oya and a team have created the #BeAFriend campaign to support the organisation Ahbap and to give a voice to Turkish and Syrian communities in the UK. Media platforms with inventory to spare are welcomed to get

“We have been affected by last week's devastating disaster, and through a colleague's friend who was directly affected, we discovered (which loosely translated means 'friend') - a non government funded organisation who are doing incredible work, but aren't being represented internationally. They simply don't have big budgets for marketing beyond their borders,” explains Oya.

“The #BeAFriend campaign is currently being curated to local Turkish businesses within the UK, with shop window signage that has a QR code CTA being sent to those who opt in. This we hope will start making a small difference whilst we focus efforts on creating a TV ad for them. We are knocking down doors and leveraging our contacts and friends in the industry to help. We sadly don't have the funds to invest in media, but if anyone has any free inventory that they are able to provide to help us get the message out there, then we'll create any format required. For anyone who would like to join us in helping to 'support local heros' in Turkey, please get in touch with”

The #BeAFriend QR Code

When it comes to the global giants of advertising, their task has been twofold: to support local staff through the personal turmoil and to invigorate their global networks to chip in.

Publicis Groupe, for example, has been front-footed with its mental health support as well as its fundraising efforts. A spokesperson from the Groupe told us:

“Following the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, we are in touch with our teams in Turkey to ensure their security and well-being. Our alert system is in place and also a mental wellbeing support line. Our teams are providing support packages for the affected regions, including critical supplies such as blankets, hygiene products, boots, gloves and food, delivering these materials to IBB, Yenikapi Logistics centre, working in coordination with AFAD. 
“Harnessing the power of our global network, we launched a fundraiser page via Marcel in support of on-the-ground charities providing aid. We continue to monitor the situation and keep in close contact with our people as events unfold. Our thoughts are with all the victims of this tragic event, their families and their loved ones.”
WPP too has been working hard to ensure that it’s throwing its weight behind the humanitarian relief effort while also ensuring that local colleagues are given the tools and resources they need to navigate a highly personal crisis.

WPP told us: “We have more than 1,400 people in Turkey, all of whom are reported as safe. We are in ongoing contact with local leadership and working with them to ensure that our people and their families receive the support they need. We have provided an emergency relief fund and our colleagues in the country are coordinating efforts across our agencies to provide help to those with family members in the affected region, such as organising transport to get them to safety and receive additional aid, including access to counselling services. We have made a donation to the UNHCR who are providing humanitarian support on the ground, and we are match-funding donations from our people.”

Patou Nuytemans is CEO of Ogilvy EMEA and prior to that, she was chief executive at Ogilvy MENA. She says that aside from the WPP-level donations, Ogilvy as a network has plans to use its collective creative prowess to support its local agency.

“We have all been shocked and saddened by the news of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Our agency staff are thankfully all safe, but we are deeply mournful for those lives that have been lost and drastically impacted by the disaster,” says Patou.
“The effects of these earthquakes will be felt for a long time and while there is an urgent need for donations to support the rescue effort, ongoing help will be required to help repair the affected areas. We know that our industry is incredible at demonstrating solidarity in times of crisis and we must continue to stand together to provide support however we can. In the immediate [aftermath], WPP has made a donation to the UNHCR who are providing humanitarian support on the ground, and as a group, we have match-funded donations from our people,” Patou continues. “Our local teams are connected to our employees around the network to understand how we can further support them. We plan to mobilise the creative bench strength of Ogilvy to support our local office with ideas for donation campaigns. On behalf of everyone at Ogilvy, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to those who have been impacted by this disaster.”

IPG has also donated to the rescue and recovery attempts and has been checking in on its local team members. Earlier, a message went around the holding company with the following message:“Like all of you, we are thinking about the many victims and their loved ones in the regions surrounding Turkey and Syria, where this week’s earthquakes caused catastrophic damage to so many. 

“In an effort to provide assistance to the victims, IPG will donate on behalf of our employees to the International Rescue Committee and we encourage you to do the same if you are able to. At this time, all of our employees in the surrounding areas and those who were travelling nearby are safe. We appreciate the inquiries about their well-being that we received from so many of you.”  

Brands and Platforms Sharing Resources

More broadly, across the media and marketing space, some brands and platforms stepped up.

Meta, for example, has donated $550,000 to the relief efforts and has been using its own platforms and tools to help, From the safety check mark to boosting the Facebook blood donation tool, it’s been working with bodies like the Turkish Red Crescent to make sure that its being as useful as possible. There are a number of initiatives in play.

From an industry perspective, though, perhaps the most useful tool to know about is the WhatsApp bot created by Meta to connect non-profits with creative agencies. Thanks to this channel, creative agencies support non-profits with digital assets to be used in their earthquake related comms.

Fellow tech giants Apple, Google and Amazon have also announced donations. Amazon has put its logistics and distribution know-how to work and has established the Turkiye Disaster Relief Hub to help those in both countries. 
IKEA has sent 5,000 flatpack shelters to the stricken region in order to help with the immediate challenge of homelessness and it has also donated €10 million to support Medecin Sans Frontiers

As proof that any platform can help, the Spanish football league has launched ‘Every Help Counts’ to bring together fans and clubs to raise funds. The goal is to use LaLiga as a loudspeaker of sorts. The league, in collaboration with LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank clubs, has joined fundraising efforts to help the Spanish Emergency Committee support the victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria through the 'Every Help Counts' campaign, which was initially launched as 'Every Minute Counts' just hours after the disaster. To support this cause, LaLiga is making all its communication and visibility tools available to the campaign, both during the broadcasting of the matches and through its media channels and social networks, with the aim of maximising the reach of this humanitarian initiative.

Across Europe a number of retail and FMCG businesses have pledged support, donating not only cash but much needed food. Businesses like Nestle, Carrefour, Tesco, Danone, Unilever, ALDI, Asda, Beirersdorf, Iceland Foods, Essity, Kraft-Heinz, Starbucks, Lidl and more have announced their contributions.

The World Federation of Advertisers had planned to hold its Global Marketer Week in Istanbul for 2023 - they’ve confirmed that the event will continue to take place there and that they are working hard to support members and colleagues.

“The whole WFA team are watching with horror at the suffering brought about by the earthquake in South-Eastern Türkiye and Syria. The devastation and the human tragedy are absolutely horrendous. We are in touch with Reklamverenler Derneği (RVD), our Turkish national association, and we hope all their families and loved ones are safe,” says the WFA’s Stefan Loerke. “This year, we are holding #GlobalMarketerWeek in Istanbul at the end of April. The earthquake hit a region that is more than 1000km away and we don’t foresee an impact on our events. Our plan is to continue with our preparations - also as a sign of solidarity to our Turkish partners. We will continue to talk to our local partners to identify ways in which WFA can play its part in helping support the wonderful people of Türkiye.”

The Challenge Has Only Begun

Given the modern day news cycle, the challenge now is to keep the crisis front of mind. While many are still glued to the new, the sad reality is that our novelty-seeking stunted attention spans mean that keeping the tragedy in the conversation is a very real challenge.

As the intensity, magnitude and complexity of human tragedy becomes clear, this isn’t about a quick fix or one-off donation. Ela says that in Turkey, they’ve already started thinking about the long term. “Now it is more about maintenance; how will people cook? How will they survive mentally and emotionally? How to keep people holding on to life when they have lost everything and, sadly, everyone?” asks Ela. “So, support is a long-term commitment, not a one-time thing because there is a difference between surviving and living a life.” 

In the UK, while the earthquake is still part of the daily news, sadly some in the media have already become complacent. On radio station Capital FM, DJ Ant Payne made an off-colour and dehumanising joke about cheap trips to Turkey in the wake of the disaster - garnering 500 complaints to the local ombudsman Ofcom, and demonstrating the responsibility held by those with a platform. It's an attitude that agencies and media platforms have a huge role to play in terms of keeping the disaster in the conversation.

According to Oya, there’s frustration around the way the narrative is playing out. “We want to help have a voice in the UK, especially as we have such a big Turkish and Syrian community here who we feel are being seen, but not heard. The scale of this devastation is unprecedented and coverage of the events has not, in our opinion, been representative of this.”

With that in mind there is so much that the international advertising community can do to keep the tragedy front of mind and to find creative solutions to the longer term fallout.

Ela says that the local advertising community is already thinking about how to leverage the upcoming Ramadan festival to galvanise support for those affected in Turkey and Syria. However, her message to the international community is simple: you can make a difference too.

“The ad community in Turkiye is very dynamic and currently all of us with our clients are thinking of ways to help people beyond donations and sending out aid. The ad industry is still motivated to do good work, win awards and make an impact. We are working to find ideas that will lift the general spirit, give people a sense of belonging and hope. This will especially help with the soon starting Ramadan where the sentiments are very similar to Christmas. We are open to exchanging ideas that could help,” she says. 

“One last note is that acknowledgement helps a lot in healing, we are not fine, everybody is very sad but we will overcome this disaster and as always creativity will help.”

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LBB Editorial, Thu, 16 Feb 2023 18:20:00 GMT