In Crises, Spare Us the Phony Gestures

Outside Marathon Sports, May 1, 2013
Outside Marathon Sports: May 1, 2013

In the days following the Boston Marathon bombings, many companies and organizations posted something along the lines of, “Our thoughts are with …”

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful here, but does anyone really care what your “thoughts” are?

If someone you love was injured, I don’t mean to be insensitive. But if a company intends such expressions to be a gesture of compassion, solidarity or community, “sending thoughts” is one of the emptiest gestures it could make.

They take almost no effort, and imply no commitment to action. Substitute “prayers” for “thoughts” and it’s more meaningful, if in fact you’re actually praying – which I don’t see many “companies” actually do. These sentiments carry more weight when they come from people, not companies.

So what triggered this rant?

This morning, I came across Marathon Sports’ latest newsletter to its community. (The sidewalk outside the Boylston Street location of Marathon Sports was the site of the first bomb.) These people were deeply shaken by April 15, and full recovery is some time away.

Last Wednesday, the store resumed its weekly community runs for the first time. About 300 people from all over the Boston area were there, compared to the usual 40 or 50. It was clearly a meaningful, emotional moment.

What seemed to matter most to the people of Marathon Sports? Action. Those who showed up did a lot more than simply “send their thoughts.” They got off their rear end and did something. It’s wasn’t a very big thing, but it did matter.

Companies can DO things; that’s what they’re built for. They can donate money. They can provide services – especially services that align well with the crisis at hand. They could also give their employees paid time off to volunteer. That kind of stuff matters.

But spare us the phony gestures. A concert later this month at TD Garden by Aerosmith and others has “net proceeds” going to The One Fund. (That’s what the website and today’s newspaper ad say – you can look it up.)

Net proceeds – really? I’m not asking for the workers at the event to work for free; I’m demanding that their employers not seek reimbursement for it. That might actually mean something.

If you want to make a difference, do that.

If you want to build your brand – do it elsewhere. Don’t do it on the back of a real tragedy.