9/11 Remembered: Ad People Reflect On How It Changed The Industry, Their Lives

Ten years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 alerted the American psyche, advertising and media industry executives reflect on their personal experiences, as well as the effect it has had on the way we use media to communicate and advertise brands.

Barbara Lippert, Curator of Popular Culture, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

It was one of those unusually beautiful mornings in New York City. The sky so clear and the light so pure that the streets seem to sparkle, and you want to make a mental note of that near-perfect crispness and clarity.

I worked at home in those days, writing a column for Adweek, and that morning, as I walked my young son to his third day of school, we laughed about "drinking in" the air. I went back to my apartment, 19 stories up on the East River, and sat down at a table by the window to read The New York Times. My husband called and told me to turn on the TV-that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. As I stood there, I could see a sky-swallowing plume of gray-black smoke billowing from downtown.



I went from watching the TV, which offered a terrifying, real-time window on the attack, to my actual window, a second screen from which I could see the second building fall.

From that moment, I could think only of my son. I called the school, and they said they were releasing the kids. I ran outside. It felt like London during the blitz. Police with bullhorns were starting to close off highways and streets, and the alarms of fire trucks and police cars drowned out any other street sounds. An army of parents was deputized to make sure everyone had a place to go.

Incredibly, none of the parents were killed. But many of the kids lived in Tribeca, adjacent to the Wall Street area-and they had to evacuate their homes for months. Some damage was so extensive residents were never allowed back. Other families were so traumatized that within a few months they bolted - to the suburbs, the West Coast, or even Europe.

What I remember from the next few weeks were the homemade signs papering the neighborhood. Taped to street lamps, fences and the sides of buildings, they bore headlines like, "Have you seen my daddy?" (Or wife, sister, father, son.) A Xeroxed photo of the missing relative, usually smiling, would follow. Lower down, there'd be more text, offering a name and a description, like "last seen on the 62nd floor of the second tower, wearing a blue shirt, red tie, and khakis. Please call...."

Many of the searched-for young women were pictured in their wedding photos, adding poignancy to the unimagined sadness.

And there was a lot of crying. Yet through the pain and wreckage, New Yorkers were incredibly generous, kindhearted and resilient. Agencies opened their shops to downtown competitors displaced by the attack.

Some businesses in the neighborhood never came back. Others reopened, triumphantly. And one night, about 18 months after 9/11, I was walking past the newly reopened Tribeca Grill. Through the window, I saw diners smiling, and people standing at the bar, laughing. It was an unusually beautiful, crystal clear evening, and I wanted to make a mental note, to remember it.

Elizabeth Elfenbein, Partner, The Cement Bloc

At my last company, we were ensconced in a new business pitch when 9/11 happened. And while we left early on 9/11, we proceeded to work late nights and all weekend as if the event hadn't happened. It was bizarre to be present at the office, yet so far away. We lost the pitch, and we lost as human beings.

The biggest lesson here is to evaluate what things are worth and then add some humanity into the equation. Our business will certainly go on --but at what expense. It's advertising.

On a personal note, I walked home to Brooklyn, meeting up with my husband and some colleagues. As we walked across the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of New Yorkers, we cried and noticed how everyone banned together. We went straight to a private school to check on our friends' kids, to make sure their parents came to pick them up. That was how we knew all of our friends from Battery Park City (we moved a year before) were alive. Two of the families were safe. We them proceeded to walk to Park Slope (in Brooklyn) to pick up our kids, who were still at school.

Bryan Duffy, EVP of Sales and Marketing, MKTG INC

I was working for PGI (now known as TBA Global) managing New York operations for the agency. Our office was located on 22nd Street between 5th & 6th. I immediately called my office personnel into our main conference room and told them they had five minutes to pack their things and head home. I would be in contact regarding next steps in the days ahead. When I reached the street, I was stunned to only see one tower standing. I will never forget for the rest of my life seeing a young man running south on 6th Ave, ripping his backpack off and crying out that his brother was in the tower.

How did it affect marketing in the last decade? It sounds very obvious, but the level of scrutiny (whether it's the Super Bowl or an internal sales event for IBM) that goes into providing security for the audience and talent involved has grown exponentially. As a result, the cost of doing business and providing this level of detail has grown. Also, there is much more thought that goes into the geographic location of events and the venues used.

Marita Scarfi, CEO, Organic

I was in San Francisco at the gym on the Stairmaster when I saw footage of the planes going into the World Trade Center. When I arrived at work, people were busy organizing how to find our employees. Our New York office was located at the Woolworth Building, only blocks from the World Trade Center. The New York managing director at the time called our CEO saying, "We're being bombed!"

How did it affect marketing in the last decade? Digital media was in its infancy and spend was very small. Many digital agencies either went out of business or continued to consolidate. It was the first big restructure of the digital marketing agencies.

Conor Brady, ECD, Organic

I was sitting in the Razorfish office on Beach Street just off West Broadway when the first plane went over. It was so low and the noise was so loud that I ducked. I was standing at Canal and West Broadway looking at the aftermath of that crash when we watched the second plane hit. Next came the collapse and we all started running.

How did it affect marketing in the last decade? Our teams bonded in a way that you cannot manufacture, and we all figured out how to get things done remotely. (We weren't allowed into our office for four weeks). What we did for a job felt very small and unimportant. In fact, if felt fake when you looked at the people who gave their lives doing their jobs.

Todd Drake, VP, Technology, Organic

In the days immediately after 9/11, we found out we knew people on the planes, people on the high floors -- everyone knew someone. All of NYC had a burnt smell, papers wafted around, and travel was severely restricted. The people of New York, for a time, acted as a single neighborhood, with pride in their city and fellow citizens, and everyone lent a helping hand.

Even though it's been 10 years, and New York changes fast, I think it's still in the back of people's minds. You're now aware there's something in the rear-view mirror you'd rather not look at.

David Angelo, Founder and CEO, David & Goliath

I had just moved from New York to L.A. to start David & Goliath when I received an early morning call from a frantic employee based in New York. I quickly turned on the TV only to discover the unthinkable. We were under attack, and it was far from over. It has left an image in my head that will never fade. At the time, brands were overly cautious with their messaging, avoiding any type of chest beating or physical type humor.

Outdoor boards with heavy retail messages were replaced with stock images of American flags and various patriotic images. Eventually, consumers wanted something to feel happy about, and the brave brands were the ones to respond. But it was different this time. Messaging was not only smarter, but more immersive and interactive.

Audrey Siegel, co-founder and President, TargetCast tcm

While there was an immediate sense of loss and bereavement, and some sensitivity in the country about "what was really important," I don't believe that anything really changed. New York, and the United States, have a survival instinct that is deep-rooted, and we don't like to suffer for long. We don't like to remember difficult times for long.

The financial situation since 2002 has had more of a lasting impact on advertising and marketing than the events of 9/11. On a personal note, we started TargetCast to do things better and differently from what was currently being done. It was important to us to surround ourselves with people we trusted, to do something we believed in, and to balance our work and our lives so that we could appreciate and honor both. To us, this was the legacy of 9/11.

Stanton Kawer, CEO, Blue Chip Marketing

The morning before, on Sept. 10, I had wished my colleagues good luck as they flew to New York for an important client meeting. I stayed back in Chicago to witness the birth of my third beautiful daughter, Eden Rose. September 10th was a day of miracles and promise. Unbridled enthusiasm personally and professionally. It is amazing how everything can change within 24 hours.

Like most Americans I watched in disbelief as planes crashed into our twin symbols of optimism, igniting flames, rendering them twisted steel, and raining ash upon a confused, scared city -- and ultimately, a more confusing and scarier world. I went to my new baby daughter in a hospital that was on high alert. I held her tight, taking in the scent of a newborn. Born on a day of innocence, it served as a reminder the day after: In spite of life's sometimes cruel realities, we must never stop trying for a better tomorrow.

How did it affect marketing in the last decade? The more interesting question is how did the attacks serve to change consumer's feelings about everything from purchasing habits to expectations of marketers and media? Over the past 10 years, the confluence of the attacks, the recession and the embrace of social media have shaped a marketing environment where consumers are not as interested in conspicuous consumption.

They are more interested in co-authoring the marketing message and means of purchase. Ultimately, the opportunity to reclaim any form of control after the attacks has served as the most critical aspect in marketing, hence, the importance of social media.

Nick Balletta, CEO, TalkPoint

Since 1998, our office has been located just three blocks from Ground Zero. We remember when the towers collapsed, running from the dust cloud and tracking down colleagues. That fateful day is never far from our thoughts. Now, every time there's a tremor or a blackout, the first thought is terrorism. I can't get onto an airplane without thinking about 9/11.

In the years following, we moved our data centers outside of New York and the United States, while implementing a much more robust recovery system. We also have data recovery days once a year -- kind of like a fire drill -- where everyone works from home. Our office can be closed for months, but we can help protect our employees and business continuity is not affected.

Our company has seen an exponential increase in virtual and online meetings, due in large part, to people's reluctance to travel. Additionally, because of our experience with crisis communications, we have seen many companies utilize our services to communicate to their employees.

Karen Greco, Associate Director, Time Inc. Lifestyle Group Public Relations

I was 23 on September 11, 2001, one year out of college, living at home in New Jersey with my parents, and commuting to my first job at Sports Illustrated in New York. There were several evacuations at work, and I was always afraid of another attack. I remember a tangible fear and sadness in the city following the tragedy. But I also remember an overwhelming feeling of patriotism -- and although I wouldn't live in New York for several years after 9/11, I was proud to be a New Yorker. That feeling that has stayed with me for 10 years -- pride and love for our city.

Alan Baker, VP of Corporate Information, StudioOne Networks

I was on a commuter train from NJ that had stopped en route to Penn Station, with no explanation of why for about an hour. I overheard a conductor tell someone: "Two planes have crashed into the Trade Center." He said it was an attack, not an accident and, we had to debark, since no trains would be going to New York. We would be put on another train going back to where we originated. After a half hour, the train arrived, jammed with people who had gotten aboard a ferry (the first) from lower Manhattan to Hoboken. They had no idea what had happened, and most were covered with white ash or soot. It was a surreal scene, right out of "War of the Worlds."

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