Prepared For Anything -- Almost

The day after Hurricane Katrina hit, Mark Mayer held a 9:00 a.m. conference call with employees of Peter A. Mayer Advertising, the $70 million company where he is president. By then, half of the agency's 120 employees were accounted for, but only 15 called in and were able to work. That was enough to keep the company going. "I think we would have been dead in the water for the first two weeks had we not had that call and got up and running," says Mayer.

Mayer developed a disaster plan last May. It called for moving teams of employees to three locations: a second office in Baton Rouge, and hotel and conference rooms in Monroe, La., and Houston. Mayer and about seven employees started work that Tuesday in Baton Rouge on computers that had company files downloaded onto them. Other employees joined in via a Web site and text messaging.

A few days later, Mayer's brother Josh, the firm's creative director, and a group of employees briefly returned to New Orleans to find that the company's three downtown buildings had sustained only minimal roof damage. They didn't know when they'd be allowed back in the city for good, so they started carting out equipment and files. "We disassembled our $30,000 phone system and brought it to Baton Rouge so we wouldn't have to buy a new phone system for just eight weeks," says Josh.

For all their planning, the Mayers didn't anticipate that some employees would lose their homes. "We never imagined that we would have to relocate people and find housing for them," says Josh. The company is spending about $10,000 a month on temporary housing.

Mark estimates that revenues were down 30% right after the storm, but by late October business had become surprisingly good. "A lot of our clients are notifying their customers of changes they've made since the hurricane," says Mayer. "So the hurricane has caused us to be very busy. Slamming busy." On Oct. 23, 16 employees began working in the reopened New Orleans offices. And Mayer started tweaking his hurricane plan, hoping it will never be tested again.

By David Dent

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