Yes, we are guilty of sounding like broken records (I am no exception). But, as repetitive or belabored the concept of the "power of media" may be to those overexposed to its principles and vernacular, it's as true and as tangible as the family you go home to every evening, as enduring as the legends that inspire generations. This became even more evident to me on a particular day in August when Hurricane Katrina hit our shores.
Without media, how long would it have taken for us to realize the severity of the flooding and human suffering in New Orleans? Who would have asked the tough questions if Soledad, Bill, Geraldo, and Anderson hadn't? How would the hurricane's 2,000 missing children reunite with their families without the online and on-air safe lists and help centers? The power of media -- ranging from television networks, local radio, websites and blogs to newspapers and magazines -- should never be questioned again. I know I won't.
If Hurricane Katrina were a product, its launch campaign was flawless. While in no way do I mean to trivialize the devastation, "campaign" Katrina achieved all possible communication goals: awareness, buzz, image-building, and, most importantly, a call to action. The campaign demonstrates integrated marketing communications at its best.
Personally, I was captivated by the messages. By the fourth day after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I was an emotional wreck, teetering between disbelief and sadness, guilt and rage. Turning my anger into action, I became the empowered consumer whose behavior I, as a media professional, seek to understand on behalf of my clients. For an entire week, I stayed up into the wee hours to watch CNN and Fox News. On the hour, I checked for news updates on MSNBC.com and streamed video of any news coverage I'd missed while at the office. I willingly watched the commercials shown before the online video clips.
Still hungry for more information, I delved further into the myriad media options at my fingertips. Having missed the live coverage of controversial comments by rapper Kanye West and former first lady Barbara Bush, I searched Google News for transcripts and video footage to form my own conclusions. I also turned to talk radio to listen to evacuees' emotional testimonies about the devastation they encountered.
We often speak about consumer attention deficit as a result of the avalanche of media choices all aimed at that elusive consumer. I don't believe this is true. Attention isn't diminishing or being replaced. It's being protected and preserved by the individual. She'll give it when she wants to, and there's a whole lot of it if we know where and how to tap into it.
Here's a case in point: me. Armed with a deluge of information, I sprung to action. When I didn't agree with the "refugee" title given to these Americans displaced from their New Orleans homes, I let CNN know how I felt via e-mail and encouraged strangers I met in the grocery store to do the same. When I wanted to get involved locally in the relief efforts, I sought talk radio for direction and a community action plan. I cast my vote in every online poll that I could find to let my voice be heard.
Media is powerful. I'm a believer. It's much more than a conduit of information. It's a pipeline that connects individuals to a larger network called humanity. It can even be the great stabilizer, as we saw during the peak of "Campaign" Katrina, when the media, rather than elected officials, stabilized the country in a time of crisis.
Now this power is in the hands of the people -- and it's the kind of power we could get used to. Power on our terms, customized to our needs. We can find out exactly what we want to know, when we want to know it, and choose to act on the information however we see fit. We can create a blog or podcast to express our opinions to the world; we can gather knowledge by listening to talk radio or reading passionately crafted arguments in chat rooms. The choice is ours. We've got the power.
Kendra Hatcher is a vice president and director of consumer context planning at Starcom MediaVest Group's Coca-Cola City unit. (email@example.com). She is a regular contributor to MEDIA magazine. This column is republished from the November issue.