Reflections Of 9/11: How Madison Avenue Remembers It

On September 11, 2001, after the magnitude of what happened that morning settled in, I spent much of the rest of the day working on the September 12 edition of a daily news publication about the ad industry I edited for Brill Media. I spent much of the afternoon making calls to advertisers and agency executives to get reactions, especially those located in Lower Manhattan near “Ground Zero.”

The reactions were almost all the same, and in the end, I decided not to publish the September 12 edition -- not because it seemed pointless, but out of respect for the fact that sometimes, things are bigger than what you are normally supposed to do.

It was actually the second time I went through an exercise like that. Six years earlier, as a reporter for Advertising Age, I worked alongside the rest of our editorial team to produce a weekly edition of the magazine devoted to reactions to the domestic terrorism attack that bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and killed 168 Americans.



Most of it was just that -- the reactions of human beings who happened to work in the ad industry -- and I felt it was overblown and pointless, and in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t publish the September 12 edition of Media Buyer’s Daily, although we did use much of the same coverage in the September 13 edition.

I wish I had a copy of it today, so I could republish or at least quote from some of what people told me then, but those were still the days of mostly analogue media and there are no archives to draw upon.

So 20 years later, I asked the editorial team at MediaPost to ask their sources two questions: 1) Could they share any personal memories from that day; and 2) Could they describe any lasting legacy from it that has impacted the way they or their organization works today.

For the most part, what follows are mainly human recollections by people who happen to work in the ad industry, but since that is what we cover, we are publishing for anyone who cares to read them.

“What struck me most was that the streets were silent,” recalls Ellen Oppenheim a long-time agency media executive who was then head of marketing at the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA). After she had settled and sent her staff home, she said she joined the processions of New Yorkers marching northbound -- and away from Ground Zero -- to her uptown apartment, where she was putting some staffers up for the night.

“There were thousands of people walking in silence,” remembers Oppenheim, now head of Oppenheim Media Consulting, adding, “And now and then you’d spot someone covered in white dust and you knew they had been downtown.”

On the way north, she says she and her colleagues stopped by Lennox Hill Hospital to give blood, but were turned away, because by then, the hospital had more donations than it needed.

“From an organizational standpoint, it was probably the first time I had to deal with people experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) -- and I was one of them,” she said when asked about 9/11’s impact on her business. “We were all still trying to figure out how to get back to work, but people had PTSD, and when you heard planes flying overhead, the room would go silent during meetings.

“I think the legacy of 9/11 would be this sense of community and caring and shared loss that we’d never experienced like that before.”

Like everyone else contacted for this story, Oppenheim said she didn’t have any photos from that day, because of the pre-digital phone nature of things, but she shared an anecdote that make its way into People magazine and suggested we find a back issue to illustrate it.

“One of my colleagues’ brother-in-law was firefighter and she was sure he had died with other first responders, so we stopped for a drink in an Irish bar on the Upper East Side, when a group of firemen walked in and her brother-in-law was among them.”

* * *

“I had just started working with Cindy Gallop over at BBH. One of our clients was Cantor Fitzgerald, one of the firms located in the Towers,” recalls Barry Lowenthal, now CEO of The Media Kitchen, who is currently located on the 66th floor of One World Trade Center.

“The days after it happened we met with the clients to help answer phones and just be supportive.

“Cindy was our guide and our role model and helped us all get through it. No one is ever prepared for that kind of tragedy and no one knows what to do and how to be helpful. We just knew we wanted to help our clients who were suffering terribly.

“But Cindy got us all together and made us all feel like we were going to get through it and showed us how to be of service.”

* * *

“I was in New York City at my desk [at Backer Spielvogel Bates] in the Grace building office that faced south. My wife called me early to ask what was going on in the city and told me a plane hit the World trade Center,” recalls Russell Zingale, now East Coast President of U.S. International Media (USIM).

“I had no idea but turned around and that was the end of life and work as I knew it in NYC. I saw both buildings come down. It was horrific. I could see Times Square and it was a mass of humanity looking at the Jumbotron [screen] watching the buildings burn. F-14’s flying overhead. I didn’t get home until almost 11. No cell or phone service to call home. One door open into Grand Central and one train at a time going to Stamford. Many employees never returned to work in Manhattan again. Seems similar to this COVID pandemic. People make choices and companies need to adapt.”

* * *

“It was an unusually beautiful and clear day in Boston. I was on my way into a meeting in the Carat Interactive Newbury Street offices when my assistant and several people who were gathered around his computer said a plane had flown into the World Trade Center,” recalls Sarah Fay, now a partner at venture capital firm Glasswing Ventures.

“We all remarked how shocking and awful that was, but I assumed it was a small plane with an amateur pilot and continued into my meeting.  When I came out, there were more people gathered around my assistant's desk.  It was now two planes that had hit the two towers.  My assistant said, ‘Your mother is on the line.’  

“I picked up my office phone to my mother crying, ‘Thank god you are there - I just heard the planes that hit the World Trade Center came out of Boston.’

“With barely time to absorb this, my assistant buzzed in and Greg Smith, who ran the Carat Interactive New York office was on hold. I said a stunned goodbye to my mother and picked up the line with Greg. He said, ‘We all just watched the World Trade Center come down from the office window.  We are going home now.’ 

“Shocked, I stammered a string of horrified comments and asked him, ‘What is going to happen?’

“And he said, ‘A lot of death. A lot of tragedy. We are going home. We can't work today.’ 

“I put the phone down and headed for our CFO, Steve Andrews' office. Halfway there, our Vice President of Digital Media Steve Ustaris announced, ‘A plane just hit the Pentagon.’

“In a management huddle we asked ourselves, ‘Should we send everyone home?’ Pretty quickly, we went as a group to a restaurant across from out offices to watch the horrific scenes of the day. 

“On my way there, one of our media partners, Glenn Maiorano was just arriving for a meeting we had scheduled. He had come to Boston from New York, and of course I was not going to turn him away.  We sat at an outdoor coffee shop and talked about the tragedy and our country, and our families. There was no business discussion. We couldn't think about business. Glenn has contacted me on 9/11 every single year since that day.”

“From there, we went home. My daughter,Grace was in first grade, and we pulled her out early. I just remember thinking, ‘Everything has just changed. Nothing matters more than our safety and personal lives and families. But what is going to happen with this business?’

“The following days were rocky. People were shaken and worried. We came together to share stories. As a leader, I tried to calm them by acting strong but looking back, vulnerability might have been the best reaction to their fears.  

“I was on a plane to the West Coast the following week. I felt a form of PTSD as one of five passengers on the whole plane, thinking the whole time about what I would do if a terrorist tried to take over. While on the West Coast, there were rumors of another plot, and flying back felt like a game of Russian roulette. We take airport security for granted today, but remember how insecure it all was back then.

“On 9/11, if skies are clear and blue in Boston, it triggers for me a dark surreal remembrance of a day that changed us all forever.”

* * *

“We were in Atlanta for a new business pitch,” recalls Bill Koengisberg, founder and CEO of Horizon Media.

“We were in the lobby of our hotel at 8:30 when the first plane hit and not a lot of facts were in. We went to the client and soon into the pitch we heard a second plane hit and all of us stopped in our tracks worried about everything.

“To our dismay the client asked us to continue. All shaken, we had no choice, but it was surreal.

“Then the Towers were falling and we just could not go on and we stopped the presentation. 

“We all ended up driving back to New York overnight and lived through the nightmare with everyone else.  

“We all remember how life seemed so normal in the small towns we passed on the way up when New York was in pure chaos and dismay. A very very sad time for sure.”

* * *

“The true test of leadership is how you lead in moments of crisis,” says John Osborn, CEO of OMD USA, who was then at sister agency BBDO, which was and still is located at 1285 Avenue of the Americas.

“All of the BBDO account leads walked the floor of the agency, making sure that before anyone left we knew they had a safe place to go to. For those we wanted to shelter in place, we stayed with them until late in the afternoon,  waiting until we knew the last person had left before we closed the door behind us.  And in the days the followed, BBDO stepped up to help heal a devastated city.  It was about a week after the attack that we put together a team to create a campaign to restore the spirit of the city. That effort became ‘The New York Miracle,’ and to this day it stands as the best and most important work on which I’ve ever worked -  and the work of which I am the most proud.”

* * *

“I was riding the train from Hastings on Hudson into New York City and noticed smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center as we rounded the northern tip of Manhattan, before heading into the Park Avenue tunnel,” recalls Dick Wechsler, CEO of Lockard & Wechsler Direct.

“When we pulled into Grand Central, we heard that the second tower had been hit. People were standing in front of all the electronic stores around Grand Central watching the televisions.

“Turning south on Madison Avenue, I headed to a meeting at Optimedia, then onto Herald Square, and I realized for the first time that there was a clear view of the World Trade Center from Madison Avenue.

“I went into a store to buy a disposable camera. (Cell phones were just phones then and I wanted to take a picture, which I did.)

“I turned right on 36th or 37th street to head west. When I reached Fifth Ave, the towers were gone -- GONE.

“It was one of those surreal experiences, totally out of context. I couldn't fathom what had happened, but the towers had collapsed.

“In shock, I continued on to my meeting, established a partnership with Optimedia with a handshake, and secured a new account. It was at Optimedia that I was able to see the news coverage and slowly absorb the magnitude of the day.

“I then went to meet my friend Steve Farella (then CEO of SFM/MPG, which is Havas Media). He and I walked to the northern Madison Avenue entrance into Grand Central. I don't recall saying a word to Steve as we walked. It was eerie. Somehow, we avoided the mass exodus crowd. Our trains were waiting and we each headed back to Westchester. My offices were then and still are on the Hudson River in Irvington, NY. Every time I go to the office, I can look down the Hudson to Manhattan. I still shutter to this day.

“In the days and months that followed, I remember being very busy. Major news events and natural disasters draw people to their TVs and viewership skyrocketed around 9/11. General advertisers pulled back their schedules, opening up inventory for many of our clients. But that business lift was short lived and the trauma of 9/11 is still being felt.”

* * *

“I was biking to work from my apartment on the Upper East Side,” recalls Neil Vendetti, president of Investment, Zenith.

“I remember passing by Chelsea Piers and seeing the explosion and smoke coming from the tower. When I made it to our office on Greenwich and Hudson, everyone was standing on the corner and watching in horror.

“One of the most vivid things I remember is a firetruck from the nearby station, packed with firemen. It seemed to me they couldn’t see what was going on from their vantage point, but then they turned the corner. The look on their faces was as serious as it gets, as they realized what they were heading into. Twenty years later, it still haunts me.

“My coworkers and I never went upstairs. We watched the first tower fall and it looked like a banana peeling the way the smoke came out. We started seeing people walking up covered in ash and soot and the reality of the whole thing hit. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

“I was still pretty junior then, and had been with Zenith for two years. We couldn’t work remotely at that time and the office was closed for about a week, but my bosses were on the phone with our partners to pull all the TV spots off the air. For a number of days, there wasn’t normal programming. It was all news, and the majority of advertising was pulled. When it was back on, most of our clients had made new creative that offered a voice of support for the country. It was about trying to unify the country rather than trying to sell something.

“I think about 9/11 more often than I would expect to. You knew at that moment the world was never going to be the same. In my office now, I have a photo of the Twin Towers on the wall where they would be as a reminder.”

* * *

“I was in Phoenix on ANA business,” recalls Bob Liodice, CEO of the Assocation of National Advertisers. “At the time of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center tower, I was on the phone with my wife and we both watched that horrific event together. The feeling that we were now at war left us feeling vulnerable and fearful for our family's and country's safety and well-being. And, for feeling helpless. Recovering our three children from school was our first priority, which was unnerving recognizing the mayhem and the uncertainty as to whether more attacks were coming. Being in Phoenix, I was paralyzed as all air traffic was shut down and my return was days away if not longer. Fortunately, everything settled down and some degree of understanding of what happened began to sink in.

“In some ways, I believe being away from New York made it more difficult to deal with the harsh realities of 9/11 than had I been in the city that day. This was a day that I wanted to be with my family, friends, and my colleagues at the ANA.  Making the trek back east I was filled with anxiety about what I would discover when I got home.  I didn't know what to expect, and I was worried about the impact and ramifications this terrible event would have on our staff and our members.

“What I learned when I got home was that the events of 9/11 brought us all closer together, as a family, as an organization, as a business community.  We came together in the days and weeks following 9/11 in ways I had never seen before.  I think we all recognized our own terrible vulnerability and that resulted in all of us being more thoughtful, more caring, and more concerned about each other.  I think many of those feelings exist to this day.”

* * *

“I was a media buyer with an ad agency in Ohio, Hitchcock Fleming & Associates,” recalls Brian Spencer, director of product marketing at Kroger Precision Marketing at 84.51°.

“The whole agency rushed into a conference room and watched it all unfold on live TV. When the towers fell, we broke down. It was sensory overload - too much to comprehend. People tried to call friends and associates in New York. Advertising everywhere came to a halt for weeks. TV stations didn’t even bother with commercial pods for days. Nobody could correct advertising schedules or billing for a long time. Clients understood that we’d have to just reconcile schedules later. Digital media was just in its infancy. In the following days, I remember refreshing the New York Times website over and over, hoping for some kind of resolution that never came.

“Looking back, you couldn’t place an ad in those days without having multiple conversations on the phone, so even media buyers in Ohio felt connected to New York. You realized how small the media business is. Even with all of the automation in media today, the best campaigns are born out of the collaboration that happens in relationships.”

* * *

“I was working at MPG (now Havas) on Sixth Avenue,” recalls Jason Kanefsky, managing partner-marketplace intelligence at Havas Media.

“We had a view of downtown Manhattan from one of the conference room windows.  Sixth Avenue, normally an uptown street, was rerouted to flow south towards the Towers.  We watched in silence as the heroes of the FDNY and NYPD, sirens blaring, lights flashing speed towards the crumbling buildings.  The news channels were on, but there was no more information that they could share that our own eyes could see, but not comprehend.

“Like most companies, we were not prepared for remote work and that was okay, as there was no work to be done. My recollection of that day was that so many of our ‘out of town’ clients reached out, just to make sure we were safe.  No mention of schedules that need to be canceled, projects that needed to be completed, just an industry coming together to collectively mourn. Those of us on the front line, representing those that were further away.

“We came back to the office the following week, determined to return to normal but in a new reality. Conversations about tonality of advertising messaging, when is it appropriate to restart campaigns, pushing schedules to later in the fall dominated the hallways all in the background of unbelievable sadness and loss.”

* * *

“I was working at [American Express] in New York, whose offices were right by the World Trade Center,” recalls Danielle Koffer, Chief Client Officer at Mindshare USA.

“It was a traumatic event in and of itself, clearly. Shortly after, my team and I were working out of a remote office in Connecticut. One day, I remember commuting back to where I lived in the city with my personal items in a box after having gotten laid off. It was an incredibly humbling experience compiled with some post-traumatic echoes of the whole 9/11 experience. 9/11 was an awakening, and what I took away from it all was: 1) We don’t live in a bubble in this world; 2) The power of human beings in coming together in crisis is mind blowing; 3) Resilience is innate.

 “Twenty years later, those takeaways still resonate for me. Mindshare USA is actually headquartered at the new World Trade Center.”

* * *

‘With Mindshare USA headquartered in the new World Trade Center, there’s an undercurrent of humility and pride as you walk through the halls,” adds Adam Gerhart, global CEO of Mindshare, who viewed the 9/11 attacks from his college dorm room 20 years ago. “It’s a beacon for resilience and optimism in our spirit.”

 * * *

“I was in Las Vegas with three colleagues from Ogilvy & Mather for a Miller Brewing Bottlers convention that afternoon,” recalls Rick Boyko, now retired, but then Chief Creative Officer of the agency.

“I was awakened by my wife’s hysterical phone call telling me to turn on the TV. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes and watched the events unfolding, I quickly put on my clothes and ran downstairs to see about booking a rental car out of sin city. While walking through the casino to get to the lobby, a multitude of TV screens, filled with images of the towers, played while hundreds of people, sat mindlessly gambling at craps, roulette and slots. Fortunately I was able to procure, literally the last rental car out of town, so my three colleagues and I set out and drove across country to get back to NY. 

“On Saturday morning along with two of my daughters who lived in the city, we proceeded to join the thousands of people walking the streets. As we walked I was struck by the outpouring of sentiment reflected in the memorials and shrines that had popped up on the sidewalks in front of every firehouse. Drawn in by the magnitude of sentiment that spilled out onto the sidewalks, I felt someone needed to capture and document the raw sentiment and visual representation of grief for posterity. That’s when the idea of ‘Brotherhood’ was born. 

“On Monday morning I floated the idea of creating a book to a small group of talented colleagues at Ogilvy who instantly volunteered, and with their help, hundreds of professional photographers and other creative entities from around the country joined in. Along with the generous support of Ogilvy’s client, American Express, we were able to create and produce “Brotherhood,” a 243-page coffee table book (see the cover image at the top of this story) to honor the fallen 343 brave firemen and the fire house’s who lost them within seven weeks. The book went on sale Dec. 7th and was a New York Times best seller and sold out in less than two weeks. After two more rushed printings, $2.5 million was raised and went directly to the families of the fallen. 

“Over these past 20 years I look back at “Brotherhood” and I’m grateful to the hundreds of talented people (too many to name here) who gave of their time, talent and passion and honored to have, with them, played a part in creating this legacy. Sadly the plates of “Brotherhood” were discarded when American Express sold off their printing arm and can no longer be reprinted.” In honor of the brave who perished that day we must never forget.”

(See Boyko, right, posing with the unnamed fireman featured on the book's cover.)

3 comments about "Reflections Of 9/11: How Madison Avenue Remembers It".
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  1. Michael Porte from The Field (social), WheresSpot, September 11, 2021 at 12:34 p.m.

    thanks for sharing.  As one of the Founders of (The online community for prisioners of advertising and TV production) we were one of the few places that people could go for information.  We had people connecting online - when they couldn't reach collegues or friends.  We still have some of those posts.  It was a time (maybe the last time?) That it feels like the country came together as one.  We we're proud to have been able to help people stay in touch during those days.

  2. Michael Porte from The Field (social), WheresSpot, September 11, 2021 at 12:35 p.m.


  3. Michael Porte from The Field (social), WheresSpot, September 11, 2021 at 1:39 p.m.

    Here are some of the Posts on WheresSpot from that time...

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