My Story

This week, I was going to write about multi-media packaging and cross-platform deals. It's a hot topic in the media world today. But I can't let go of my thoughts about the dark side of the real world. So I'd like to share with you my experience over the last several weeks. And leave the media world for now.

While this is not a story about media, it is a story about the shocking and tragic event that is being exhaustively covered by the media. And, it is my story.

I'm sure everyone will always remember where they were the morning of September 11, 2001. I was just getting off the train at Grand Central Station as people were talking about a small plane hitting one of the towers of the World Trade Center. As I walked to my office on 42nd Street I had no knowledge of the enormity of the moment. When I got off the elevator at the 17th floor of my building people were talking incessantly about both towers of the World Trade Center being hit not by small planes, but large commercial jets only minutes apart. We all know what unfolded after that.



Needless to say, I couldn't work. My mind was completely occupied by what was taking place. The collapse of the towers. People being killed and mutilated. The smoke billowing over the city and the smell filtering all the way up to midtown Manhattan. It was horrifying. Everyone was dumbstruck, numb, crying, frightened and many began trying to leave the city. It wasn't easy as police, fire trucks, and ambulances immediately pervaded the streets. Blockades popped up everywhere it seemed. No one's eyes could leave the smoke pouring up from where the Twin Towers had once characterized the landscape. And when night came I sat fixated to my television set watching again and again the events of the past several hours.

For the next few days, I tried to go back to work. But it was impossible to concentrate. Naturally, I made several donations to the World Trade Center relief funds and the American Red Cross but that wasn't enough. I needed to be there. To do something more personal. To help in some physical way. I couldn't just be absorbing it anymore. So I called some telephone numbers that I read or heard about to volunteer. "Give us your name, telephone number and address and we'll put you on a waiting list" they said. No call came. There was clearly an overabundance of volunteers. It was then that I decided to see what else I could do. Leaving my office I asked a cop what he could suggest. "Get some working clothes and go down there", he said. "They'll find something for you to do".

The next day I spoke with my company and told my clients that I was taking a leave of absence and went down to the World Trade Center. Most of it was barricaded but what I could see was mind-boggling. The pictures we see in the press or on television cannot fully express the vastness of the overwhelming devastation. I began asking police officers what I could do, where I could help. I went from one to another to another all morning long. But to no avail. I was finally sent to the Jacob Javitz Center where applications were being taken. No luck there either, but eventually I stumbled onto a unit of The Salvation Army that was unloading trucks with food supplies for the shelters of displaced people as well as relief workers. For the next two weeks I worked shoulder to shoulder with volunteers from all over the country loading and unloading trucks and sorting supplies. It was a gratifying experience on the one hand and a torturous one on the other as we constantly heard what was going on at ground zero. Eventually, all hope died for the possibility of any remaining survivors and, many relief centers closed. So I went home.

Today, I'm back on my job. But life as I knew it will never be the same as I wonder about the fragile world we live in. Many politicians are saying " Let's get back to a normal life." I know it's uplifting talk that's trying to engender the kind of determination we need. And we will reorient ourselves. But what’s “normal” now? What will we be thinking in an airport or when we get on a plane? When we're in a location that represents a symbol of America. Or as visitors to New York City, Washington, D.C. or other high profile places.

I also think of how the focus of my business will change. As people may think differently about their lives, advertisers will need to reevaluate their strategies. Do more consumer research about attitudes and behavior. Be more sensitive to commercial content. Review the content of the media environments in which they advertise. And, allow for greater marketing flexibility in their annual plans. No, life will not be the same. But we will carry on with the same strength and perseverance we have always had to guard our principles of freedom.

-- Michael D. Drexler is Executive Vice President at Mediasmith, Inc. an integrated Interactive Media planning and buying company. During his 41 years in advertising he has been Media Director of Ogilvy, DDB and FCB as well as Chairman of TN Media.

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