America chooses service to remember 9/11 victims

Best Buy, American Express and Barneys New York are among the brands that have communications planned around the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Best Buy, American Express and Barneys New York are among the brands that have communications planned around the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

These brands have approached the date cautiously, not wanting to appear as though they are exploiting the tragedy. Others, still, are getting behind a national effort to help change how Americans respond to (and feel about) the day.

Best Buy had initially planned to organize its own campaign around 9/11, says Andrea Wood, manager of community relations for the consumer electronics retailer.

That changed when she attended the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in early June. There, she met David Paine, co-founder and president of MyGoodDeed, a nonprofit that successfully advocated for making 9/11 a federally designated Day of Service and Remembrance. Paine is also the founder and former CEO of PainePR.

“We wanted to make sure whatever we did was connected with the 9/11 family members, and that it was done with the utmost sensitivity and respect,” says Wood. “MyGoodDeed was a perfect fit for that.”

Through the partnership, Best Buy will sponsor citywide service projects across the country on 9/11 weekend, including clean-up and restoration efforts.

The retailer is also planning larger events in four markets: New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, and Best Buy's hometown of Minneapolis/St. Paul. At the latter two events, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn will speak. Best Buy staff will also have tablets and laptops on-hand, so people can make an online pledge of community service in memory of the 9/11 victims.

PR support includes media relations and social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Edelman is providing back-up support for the program. And Padilla Speer Beardsley is providing PR support for the Minneapolis/St. Paul event.

“Our message to employees and customers isn't about thinking how horrible that day was, but about keeping the memory of those victims alive by doing [community] service,” says Wood.

Paine says they have had tremendous support this year for the Day of Service and Remembrance. “In the first few years, you couldn't get a company to touch 9/11 with a 10-foot pole,” says Paine. “But that has changed significantly as the years have gone by.”

In fact, MyGoodDeed has 19 sponsors (up from three or four last year), including American Express, GlaxoSmithKline and JPMorgan Chase. In total, sponsors have contributed $3 million, the most MyGoodDeed has raised in a single year.

As part of its lead sponsorship, Amex has donated $1 million to help fund service projects in 20 US cities. In terms of PR, it is leveraging social media through the creation of an “I Will Volunteer” Facebook app, which connects volunteers to service projects in their communities.

“What is so special about this National Day of Service is the sheer scale,” says Bradley Minor, Amex's director of public affairs. “Rather than focusing on just New York or Washington, DC, or just one specific organization, Amex is able to facilitate an opportunity for all Americans to pay tribute through service.”

Outside of MyGoodDeed partnerships, Barneys New York has tied its participation in Fashion's Night Out on September 8 with a financial donation to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

However, given the sensitivity around 9/11, there are relatively few brands who have launched overt communications campaigns around 9/11.

“Ten years is a big milestone, but there still has been a sombre tone about it and you haven't seen a lot of brands jump on it,” says Craig Bida, EVP, cause branding at Cone. “But as companies increasingly look at issues in support of patriotism, community, and global conversation, that will start to change.”

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