PR Executives Reflect on the Lasting Impact of Sept. 11 Attacks


A year after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, most PR practitioners have turned their attention to the impact of a tough economy and the widespread effects of big-name business scandals. In fact, many communications execs say the economic downturn has had a more dramatic impact on their work than the terrorist attacks. PR may be back to business as usual, but we wanted to know how that "business as usual" has changed as a result of the tragedies of 9/11. We canvassed a variety of PR experts and discovered that Sept. 11 made significant changes in communications execs' personal priorities. It also made subtle, but equally important changes in the business of PR, from forcing colleagues to recognize the importance of collaborating with the PR department to bringing strategic philanthropy into sharper focus. In this story, we share thoughts from our experts, in their own words: Personal Priorities Andy Gilman, president, CommCore Consulting Group I don't think 9/11 changed my views towards PR. I think 9/11 made me more aware of what's important regarding family and friends. Mike Paul, president, MGP & Associates PR 9/11 has reminded us that our jobs are never as important as faith in God and our love of our families. Lisa Kovitz, managing director, Burson-Marsteller, New York Ironically, on Sept. 11, a colleague and I were working on a project for Barnes & Noble and the Anti-Defamation League called "Close the Book on Hate," the second year of a campaign to help parents and educators explain "tolerance" to children. We felt even more empowered to get the word out as it became clear we had just witnessed the "hate crime of the century," as our ADL said. What I think we've learned from the last 12 months is, take more time to have a life - spend time with your friends and family (I have a friend who says, "It's PR, not ER!"). Katie Paine, president, KDPaine & Partners I've seen a remarkable change in people's priorities. Money isn't as important; family, friends, community are much higher. Look for much more community activism and people moving to nonprofit jobs. Smooch Reynolds, president, The Repovich Reynolds Group Throughout this past year, I have witnessed significant shifts in communicators' thinking about how they prioritize their lives, their careers, and their expectations of themselves. The dominant force in professionals' minds today, as it relates to career navigation, is deeply tied to redefining the benchmarks by which they judge their successes ... communicators are abandoning the traditional and historical gauges for success. The newfound freedom resulting from this behavioral shift is enabling professionals to feel and believe that their freedom of career and life choices is becoming renewed. Editor's Note: Reynolds will further explore the impact of Sept. 11 on PR careers in her column in our special career issue in November. Employee Relations Don Etling, SVP, partner and national practice group chair, internal communications, Fleishman-Hillard The smart companies are now spending more time on one of the fundamentals of change - creating a strategic dialogue with employees on a more sustained basis ... spending more time discussing "why" behind company decisions. Brands Mark Curran, managing director, global marketing practice, Ogilvy PR Worldwide I work closely with brands in the consumer product arena. Two years ago, many traditional brands were searching for their place in a dotcom-driven, new world order. Now these brands fill an important place in consumers' emotional space - security, familiarity, trust and reliability. Classic brands are now touchstones of constancy and provide comfort and reassurance. Crisis Communications Jon Austin, SVP, Fleishman-Hillard Sept. 11, like no other event in modern American history, brought home a great truth - good communications saves lives. These truths resonate for anyone responsible for leading an organization in a time of crisis and as a result, we are seeing more requests for crisis communications plans than ever. Clients no longer see such activities as "nice to do" insurance that may never get used. Margery Kraus, president and CEO, APCO Worldwide Prior to 9/11, crisis communications was a discipline utilized largely by industries with inherent risk, such as the airlines or oil and chemical companies. Trying to sell crisis planning to more traditional business segments, such as banking or retail, was challenging. Crisis or contingency planning was considered a luxury, frequently reserved for only the best of economies. In the post 9/11-era, and with the corresponding struggling economy, crisis communications has entered the mainstream and been transformed into an imperative. Ken Capps, VP, Public Affairs, Dallas-Fort Worth Intl. Airport Communications and education will continue to play a key role in national security issues, such as airport security, as well as the ailing airline industry and indeed the national economy. All the while we must remember it is the traveler, the reader, the viewer who is the most important - and must be given clear, concise information in this uncertain age of arbitrary Congressional deadlines, airlines gone bust and the occasional, accidental tourist who opens a fire door and causes a terminal to be evacuated. Corporate Philanthropy Lisa Kovitz, managing director, Burson-Marsteller, New York and immediate past president of WEPR We've learned that if clients can do programs that help to "do good," encourage them to do so. The Foundation of Women Executives in PR has, for the last 13 years, [run] an awards program that salutes socially responsible PR programs. Our entries for this year are reflective of the national mood. Anniversary Communications Valerie Davis, principal, Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia We recently produced a tobacco prevention television PSA that features a procession of hearses. The PSA campaign is supported with a paid media schedule that began in August, but will not run throughout most of September. The campaign will resume in October. Tobacco prevention is important, but patriotic respect and sensitivity to national mourning has taken precedence around 9/11. Joe Swaney, director of PR, Cartoon Network At the time of the tragedy last year, Cartoon Network weighed several options, including going "black" or switching our feed to CNN. Instead, we determined that we should "stay the course" so that kids (and grown-ups) had a place to go to take a break from the real world. Afterward, we received many letters from parents thanking us for providing a TV home their kids could turn to during the crisis. Similarly, we've elected to air cartoon entertainment on the first anniversary of 9/11, again so that viewers have a place to turn in case emotions run a bit too strong. Richard Edelman, CEO, Edelman, in a memo to Edelman staff and clients regarding Sept. 11, 2002 The communication needs to position 9/11 without jingoism or patriotic language. American companies should be particularly sensitive to this issue. Corporate spokespeople should come from multiple countries and be allowed to reflect local as well as global views. The content of the communication should reflect the solemnity of the anniversary. This is not a time to be silent. It is a time to allow human feelings to shine through. CEOs need to set the tone through personal involvement with employees, expressing confidence in the future and commitment to values. (Contacts: Andy Gilman, andyccg@aol.com; Mike Paul, mpaul@mgppr.com; Katie Paine, kdpaine@kdpaine.com; Lisa Kovitz, lisa_kovitz@nyc.bm.com; Smooch Reynolds, smooch@trrg.com; Margery Kraus, mkraus@apcoworldwide.com; Don Etling, etlingd@fleishman.com; Richard Edelman, richard.edelman@edelman.com; Mark Curran, mark.curran@ogilvy.com; Jon Austin, austinj@fleishman.com; Valerie Davis, vdavis@enviromedia.com; Joe Swaney, joe.swaney@turner.com, Ken Capps, kcapps@dfwairport.com)

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