Agencies cope with the aftermath

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Greg Jones can still remember the surreal feeling of standing on the eighth floor of Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners headquarters at 375 Hudson St. in New York, less than a mile from the site of the World Trade Center. Mr. Jones, communications director, was watching a television for updates on the terrorist attack on Sept. 11 when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the landmarks fall.

"It used to be a great spot with a great view, a clear look down to the towers," he said. "Used to be."

At Interpublic Group of Cos.' Gotham, staffers watched the Twin Towers collapse from the agency's rooftop deck. Assistant Producer Mathieu Shrontz, who captured the ugly event on videotape, said "I don't think anybody doesn't go up there without remembering that day."

Like everything, the agency business changed after Sept. 11.

"It isn't how you do business, it is just that everyone is more conscious of business," said Martin Smith, Gotham vice chairman. "I think there was an attitude, before, that things will be terrific. In the late `90s, everyone had big budgets. Those days are gone now. There's a lot more pressure to deliver results-both on our side and on the client side."

Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners Co-Founder Richard Kirshenbaum said that "as life has gotten back to normal around here, the landscape has changed permanently. Every day, we are aware that that has changed."

As for advertising, the changes have been more subtle. "We lived through the Pearl Harbor of our generation," said Mr. Kirshenbaum. "I don't know whether it has changed advertising every day of the year, but it has made people more sensitive about messaging."

The already shaky economy was further rocked by Sept. 11. While most executives said they did not lose business following 9/11, it was nonetheless affected. Ritesh Patel, chief technology officer at i-shop Agency.com, doesn't attribute client losses to the attacks but said it did slow down clients' decision-making. "The sales cycle has gotten longer," Mr. Patel said.

Los Angeles-based ad agency Ground Zero, which once playfully underscored its name by decorating with old airplane bomber chairs and camouflage, had been running a New York office for about a year around the time of the attacks. After several months of slow new business prospects and a dearth of clients, Ground Zero closed the shop. Although some questions were raised after the attack on whether the agency should change the name it's had since 1994, CEO Jim Smith said it was never under serious consideration.

None of the ad agencies based in downtown Manhattan were close enough to the WTC site to have suffered any losses, but several had family members who were in the towers at the time of the attack.

Peter Arnell, CEO of Omnicom Group's Arnell Group, said "There is a greater interest in rebuilding, not leaving." In reponse to the strikes, he said his agency had bought clean air tanks and other emergency equipment.

Others are reminded of the tragedy in different ways. Euro RSCG MVBMS, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi and Gotham, for example, each offered office space to clients who were displaced by the WTC attacks. The agencies have instituted or refined policies on gaining entrance to their respective buildings.

Last year, several Saatchi & Saatchi employees were able to see those WTC workers who jumped to their deaths. Grief counselors were made available, and Saatchi employees have the option of taking the day off this year.

Publicis' Fallon, situated just two blocks from Ground Zero, evacuated its entire staff on the day of the terror attacks and didn't move back until October. "Clients stopped spending," said Allison Burns, president of the New York office, in an earlier interview. "After 9/11 and the end of last year, we had to go through tough times and we weren't incredibly busy, we weren't making a lot of ads," recalled Kevin Roddy, executive creative director, last month, adding that the agency has since bounced back.

contributing: hillary chura, alice z. cuneo, pat riedman, lisa sanders

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