9/11 anniversary subdues communications industry

NEW YORK: Media relations operations largely ground to a halt at companies nationwide last Wednesday, as the news industry focused on commemorating the attacks of 9/11, and PR pros observed the anniversary.

NEW YORK: Media relations operations largely ground to a halt at companies nationwide last Wednesday, as the news industry focused on commemorating the attacks of 9/11, and PR pros observed the anniversary.

Most PR agencies counseled clients to hold off new-product announcements and promotional efforts for the week around 9/11, working only reactively on accounts with a clear connection to the topic at hand.

"Out of respect for the anniversary of 9/11, we anticipated that companies would hold off on disseminating material news releases," said David Armon, president of PR Newswire Americas. "In fact, we did see a drop of around 75% nationally on the wires, and that quickly rebounded on September 12 with a return to normal traffic volumes."

Airlines and energy firms scrambled to stay on top of media demand. Delta Airlines' corporate communications staff found itself managing a deluge of news crews snooping for anxious passengers at its airport terminals, while attempting to carry out internal programs bringing together airline staff and senior executives.

The communications staff at Dallas Ft. Worth airport steered executives through a busy schedule of media appearances and interviews.

Proactive pitching and planning took place weeks before, when news outlets put together much of their commemorative coverage. "We realize the sensitivity of this week," said Jennifer Lipari-Stalzer, a senior associate in the media practice of Burson-Marsteller. "We've only been responsive to media if we've gotten calls from contacts."

Instead, media relations pros devoted much of a low-key week to planning and writing assignments.

Meanwhile, most firms provided staff with the flexibility to commemorate the tragedies as they saw fit, allowing employees to take the morning off, visit places of worship, or work from home. Many observed moments of silence marking the time of the attacks. New York companies in particular took pains to cushion what was for many a painful time.

Edelman's New York office set up catered "communal areas," where employees could gather, eat, and watch TV. At Edelman offices elsewhere, many took part in community-service programs.

Amidst a heavy news day, the media held its own observances. Reuters Group, which lost six people at the World Trade Center and two more covering the war in Afghanistan, had counselors on hand, and set up an internal website and a "quiet room" for employees to reflect upon the attacks.

Dow Jones Group, which has only just returned to World Financial Center offices ravaged by the twin towers' collapse, and suffered the loss of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl earlier this year, muddled through a "low key" week, said corporate communications executive Karen Pensiero.

"We found that everyone needs to deal with it in a very personal way," she said. "We tried to offer some flexibility."

Elsewhere in the marketing-services sector, all but a few large advertisers withdrew ads for the week, and the Direct Marketing Association advised members to hang up their phones and avoid sending e-mails for fear of offending consumers.

Many media relations pros said they expect a flurry of activity this week, as "9/11 fatigue" leaves consumers hungry for less serious fare.

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