On this poignant 20th anniversary of 9/11, it’s important never to forget those who lost their lives during the terror attacks, whether as victims within the buildings, first responders, or those who succumbed after the event due to exposure to toxins at Ground Zero.
We spoke to PR industry executives and representatives of PRWeek and our holding company Haymarket Media about their experiences of that fateful day. We also paid tribute to two PR pros who lost their lives, Cantor Fitzgerald VP of media relations Suria Clarke and Flight 93 hero Mark Bingham.
The stories people tell are not unique – they represent thousands of similar narratives from the day and its aftermath. Stories of shock, fear, confusion, rumors, family, disbelief, exhaustion, desperation and loss of life. But, most of all, stories of ordinary people pulling together, helping each other out and trying to conduct business as usual in extraordinary circumstances – to let the terrorists know we will not be beaten and cowed by violence.
It’s difficult also to comprehend the fundamental changes in the media and information landscape in those two decades, from the rise of social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, to the introduction of widespread fast broadband internet access, to the invention of smartphones with all sorts of powerful interactive functions.
In 2001, people still relied on a few TV stations, radio, landline telephones and word of mouth to get their emergency information. One can only imagine what an event such as this would look like in the era of ubiquitous smartphones and social channels.
Honestly, I truly hope we never get to find out, because the horror of that day was impactful enough without the added modern intrusive lenses and microscopes facilitated by social media.
As it turned out, communications did matter too, with PR pros rallying around to support the families of those who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost an almost unimaginable 658 staffers in the World Trade Center attacks.
That’s why it was important for the PRWeek team, led back then by editor in chief Jonah Bloom with colleagues still working at Haymarket today including Gideon Fidelzeid and Louise Boyle, to reflect the tragedy for its audience and work with the PR industry to get a relevant and appropriate magazine into the market despite the tremendous barriers in place to doing so.
It mattered then and it matters now – it was appreciated by all stakeholders. As my Haymarket colleague Jim Burke told us, it was one small gesture among millions of others that we were not going to be defeated by the terrorists and we’re not going to let them tell us how to live our lives.