Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm that was housed in the World Trade Center pre-9/11, was the largest corporate casualty of the tragedy. It has become victim yet again, now under assault for a promotional campaign recently launched by its ad agency.
The $4 million TV and print campaign features real employees telling their personal 9/11 stories in horrific detail. Chris Crosby, for example, explains how he keeps a "visual Rolodex to honor and remember his colleagues who did not survive the attack. He says: "Everyone who I lost would say: 'Go to work. That's where we need you. That's what you're good at. Go do it.'"
Another employee, Steve Merkel, questions in his documentary-like spot why he survived 9/11. He says: "There's nothing different about me ...
We have to succeed, we have to keep going. (To see the ads online, go to www.cantor.com).
Distasteful? That's what some critics call the controversial ad campaign.
Capitalizing on human tragedy? Even some in the ad industry think so.
Ad Age editor Scott Donaton says, "I think (the ads) are exploitative.
Ultimately, they don't pay tribute to the employees that died. They try to use them as a reason you should hire the firm, and I don't think that's honest advertising."
There are a few things that we should remind ourselves. Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees - almost two-thirds of the entire company - leased four floors of the North Tower with the idea that credibility and status, because it was a tenant of the financial Mecca that is the World Trade Center, would gain new business. This, arguably, was part of its larger business plan.
Obviously, the destruction - and irreparable devastation - that occurred on 9/11 altered all those plans irreversibly. Cantor lost more than its prestigious office space. It lost two-thirds of its talent that day. It lost two-thirds of its capabilities that day. It lost at least two-thirds of its business that day.
Cindy Gallop, president of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the agency that created the ads, told Chris Matthews on CNBC's Hardball: "It's a tragic fact of life ... that Cantor Fitzgerald is irrevocably associated with 9/11. It's a reality they didn't ask for, it's a reality they didn't want."
Cantor's financial losses will never be more important than the loss of two-thirds of families and friends. However, saving the company from financial ruin is a business reality. After all, the company has said that 25% of the corporate revenue for a period of five years will be given to the families of the colleagues that were lost. Without business, there will be no revenue.
There is validity in examining the devastation that corporate America suffered because of circumstances beyond its control. These ads may have crossed the line - as evidenced by the national outrage - but this is a story the public should care about.
All marketing campaigns have come under intense scrutiny following the most devastating attack on US soil. Undeniably, post-9/11 is one of the most sensitive times for any type of promotional activities. A PR effort might have shown more respect for public sensitivity in this environment.
Consider this: You walk out of your door to pick up your morning paper.
The headline reads: "Cantor Fitzgerald lost majority of lives, dollars." You read further. Chris Crosby, an executive from the financial firm, is brought to life in the lead of the story as a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The gripping narrative talks about the "visual Rolodex that Crosby used in his healing process. It talks about the millions of dollars that Cantor lost, ironically, because of its physical location in one of the most prominent financial buildings in the world.
It spells out the devastation - in lives and in dollars - of a once prosperous business.
It makes the average reader sympathize with the struggling company - and possibly seek out its business services in ardent support of a company that wants "to succeed and to keep going."
All this was achieved from an outside perspective, from a reporter that has no ties to the company. What Cantor's PR effort offered was the relationship with the reporter, the story angle, the accessibility of the "employee spokesperson and facts about the company that can be used in the article.
Just ask yourself if you'd feel this embattled financial firm was "capitalizing on human tragedy had you read this, or a similar story, in The New York Times? Probably not. You would more likely consider trading your treasury bonds with the company.
Noelle Boyd is an AE at GCI Read-Poland. She focuses on media/advocacy relations, crisis management, and data publicity.