A Puerto Rico devastated by last year’s Hurricane Maria is on the verge of its next hurricane season. “And there are still problems,” says GroupM’s Phil Cowdell.

There will be more storms and “people are still living under roofs with plastic tarpaulins…there are still people who don’t have power. So what we have to do is help to sustain relief to make sure that people live their own lives and be independent.”

At last week’s Beet Retreat in the City: Television Advances as Consumers Choose, Cowdell provided an update on those relief efforts.  He presented an overview of what he and his colleagues from GroupM undertook in tthe weeks after the storm.via slides and video. In this interview with Beet.TV contributor Ashley J. Swartz, Cowdell explains how a GroupM team including people from agencies like MediaCom, Media Edge and Wavemaker responded after Maria struck on Sept. 16, 2017.

“What happened immediately after the storm is I reached out and said, ‘how is everybody’? It took a couple of days to find out at least they’re all okay and they’re alive,” says Cowdell, who is Global President, Client Services. “And then when you get a message from a colleague who says ‘but I have no drinking water for my 13-month old baby,’ what do you do? You have a choice.”

While some people donated money or made pledges to do so, Cowdell chose to “get on a plane and you can take water purification. I managed to get on a phone, collected water purification, filters, solar lamps, medications, etcetera.”

Cowdell expresses frustration when he recalls seeing events on the ground versus what the news media was reporting during the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. He says the national narrative the weekend after the storm was characterized by people tweeting “about the NFL and taking a knee. They weren’t about thousands of Puerto Ricans at risk and potentially thousands dead.”

Some news reports conveyed the impression that there were lots of relief efforts going on by individuals and the military.

“What was being told didn’t reflect reality on the ground. I know we’re in a world of fake news now, but for me personally it was my first real experience of seeing the reality of a situation on the ground and what’s being communicated through the storytelling of the media,” Cowdell says.

His focus going forward is to continue to help marshal continued assistance to Puerto Ricans in the face of inexorable threatening weather conditions.

“The real issue is, the storm when it first hit was a weather disaster. What happened after it became an economic disaster. People who are very rich paid $25,000 they flew out and moved to their houses in Miami. Then it got to the next class and the next class.”

Meanwhile, in places like the hills of Campos, “They are still in desperate need. There was no real tolerance for a storm like this. Those are the people who need help.”

At a reception following Beet Retreat in the City, there was an auction to assist the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico. So far, that effort has raised some $20,000.

This video was produced at the Beet Retreat in City & Town Hall on June 6, 2018 in New York City. The event and video series are presented by LiveRamp, TiVo, true[X] and 605. For more videos from the series, please visit this page.