Bush/Clinton Hurricane Partnership
Managing Communications for Two Bush-Clinton Hurricane Partnerships Reach a Global Audience and Spread Hope
Two horrific hurricane seasons. Two different years. Two different former presidents. But two similar calls to Jim McGrath and Chris Begala.
The first urgent call came early in September 2005 in the immediate aftermath of the most devastating storm in American history, Hurricane Katrina. Much of the Gulf Coast stretching from Louisiana to Florida laid in ruins, and hundreds of thousands of evacuees escaping the rising waters in and around New Orleans had been bused into Texas. Within hours, the population in Houston’s Reliant Astrodome surged to nearly 25,000 — and eventually an overflow crowd of another 6,000-plus Katrina victims would be “housed” on cots at Reliant Center and Reliant Arena in the same complex.
Into this sea of humanity and misery waded former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton — tapped by President George W. Bush to help raise awareness and assess the initial damage needs. First up for the two former world leaders on the morning of September 5th was a comprehensive briefing at Reliant Center with federal, state, and local disaster recovery leaders. Joining the presidents, McGrath-Begala learned at the last second, were Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as local members of the congressional delegation, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, and Texas Governor Rick Perry among others.
Following the briefing, it was down the Reliant Center hall to a press conference carried live nationally, broadcast to a global audience, and featuring the two presidents with a blue chip group of business leaders led by Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott (who had pledged to donate over $20 million to the Fund). Begala-McGrath managed all the logistics from conception of message, audio/visual, stage, press releases, securing the satellite feed, to getting a 10-foot by 25-foot backdrop with the newly created Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund logo emblazed at spaced intervals to ensure it was captured in all photos.
Then it was down to the floor of the Reliant Center to visit with the hurricane evacuees. The two presidents met, talked, and even prayed with the hardest hit citizens who just days before were trying desperately to save their lives and worldly possessions, and standing on rooftops trying to flag down help from the skies. Tears flowed, stories poured out, and the healing started.
Then it was off to a bevy of exclusive one-on-one press interviews, including Larry King Live as well as taping multiple public service announcements and commercials with the two former Presidents.
In the end, the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund was able to attract support from some 60,000 donors across America and around the world, who contributed more than $129 million to help the Gulf Coast resident recover.
It was much the same three years later, in September of 2008. First came the wind and rain. Then came the waves, and devastation. And then these two remarkable leaders decided to set politics aside and join together once more to help in the recovery process.
Begala-McGrath handled the media logistics for the new Bush-Clinton Coastal Relief Fund from the start — working with former Secretary of State Jim Baker, the new fund’s chairman, to manage the rollout press conference in September and the multiple-site visit of the former presidents and Mr. Baker to Galveston the following month.
After viewing the affected areas on Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula by helicopter, the presidents toured the joint disaster response center before walking the island’s storm-ravaged Bermuda Beach — which incurred $4 million in infrastructure damage. There, the two leaders conducted a press conference on the beach, gave an expansive interview to the Fox News Channel’s Greta van Sustren, and taped a public service announcement to lay out their hopes — driving as many people as they can towww.bushclintoncoastalfund.org.
Efforts to raise money for these good people are on-going, so please go to the Bush-Clinton website and donate anything you can today!