Ground Zero

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Before last week, the most notable images Mathieu Shrontz had captured on video during his six months as a production assistant at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Gotham were of models auditioning for Maybelline ads. Shortly after 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, the 24-year-old's breadth as a videographer expanded to include unthinkable ugliness.

After hearing news reports of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, Mr. Shrontz, camera in hand, scurried to the roof of 100 Fifth Avenue, Gotham's headquarters. For the next two hours, surrounded by 30 or so of his colleagues, he videotaped the fiery destruction of a distinctive New York icon.

All over Manhattan, as all over the world, those in the advertising and media industries watched last week in horror and disbelief as the drama unfolded. In midtown that morning, Jerry Judge, CEO of Interpublic's Lowe Lintas & Partners, was leading a meeting on the 48th floor of the agency's offices next to the United Nations when the second airliner came into view through the floor-to-ceiling windows. "We thought how strange it should be flying so low," Mr. Judge said.

Downtown, at Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi headquarters at 375 Hudson St., less than a mile from the World Trade Center, scores of agency staffers watched from the glass-lined 16th floor as the second plane hit. "It was a serious-looking jet, aiming at the tower, and it became clear it was a terrorist attack," said CEO Kevin Roberts, who was based in the Middle East from 1975 to 1982 while working at Procter & Gamble Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co.

Aboard a British Airways flight grounded on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International airport, Paul Levine, chief marketing officer of Cordiant Communications Group's Bates USA, sat in his window seat and watched as the buildings burned: "It looked like two smoke stacks."

Whatever the vantage point, the destruction was a ghastly sight. The hours and days since the Tuesday morning attack were shocking and difficult as advertisers and marketers, like everyone else, adjusted to a world changed, at least in the short term. The New York offices of many ad agencies closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. By Sept. 13, most reopened, although they faced problems as commutes, mail delivery and phone service were disrupted.

ACTIVITY GRINDS TO HALT

Other agencies, predominantly those downtown, had not reopened by week's end. Activity at numerous SoHo Internet companies, already sluggish in the months prior to Sept. 11, ground to a halt. Agency.com and Organic, two Seneca Investments-backed i-shops located blocks from the blast, are relocating to temporary office space. Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulus' offices at 345 Hudson St. were also shuttered as space in front of the building served as a staging area for rescue personnel. Activity at Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty and Arnell Group, Cliff Freeman & Partners and Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG Worldwide, all downtown, was at a virtual standstill.

A regular workweek was out of the question for hundreds of agency employees stranded far from home. Several U.K.-based Saatchi & Saatchi staffers who flew to New York for a global meeting were stuck at the TriBeCa Grand hotel when the Federal Aviation Administration canceled all air travel. Supplies of food and hot water were limited at first, but the extended stay became easier as other scheduled guests didn't arrive. Three executives from Interpublic's Martin Agency, in Atlanta for a meeting with client UPS, sought travel alternatives when their return flight was canceled. Because renting a car one-way to Richmond, Va., proved difficult, the executives went to a local Ford dealership to buy a car.

Much of the work that was being done at the end of the week involved altering images in current campaigns, advising clients on appropriate responses and rethinking communications strategies. Print and outdoor ads announcing the expansion of Commerce Bank, a New Jersey-based regional institution, into the New York market, were scheduled to break Sept. 14. But the ads, which are being revised, included a photograph of lower Manhattan with the World Trade Center prominently shown. "We want to do what is appropriate," said David Flaherty, VP-corporate communications.

The Monaco Government Tourist office asked its agency, Green Team Advertising, New York, to change some pages on its Web site and to create one that expresses the principality's condolences to Americans. At Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, a team of agency executives combed through every current campaign to make sure the "messaging is appropriate," said Eric Keeshin, general manager. "We're also maintaining a close watch on our research about consumer dynamics. That may change dramatically in the near future," he said.

Though hardships and difficulties abounded during the week, displays of kindness, trust and generosity were also frequent. The Martin executives were able to borrow rather than buy a car and promised the dealer they would cover the cost of return shipment. Jim Smith, chairman of Ground Zero, which will soon move into a building in Manhattan's meatpacking district, made that space available "to anyone who needs to set up shop temporarily." Agencies including Omnicom's DDB, New York; Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett, Chicago; and WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, established relief funds for rescue workers and victims. Others, such as Saatchi and WPP's Y&R, offered pro bono advertising services to New York City government organizations. Bcom3's Kaplan Thaler Group offered pro bono services to client American Red Cross for work related to the attack.

Contributing: Cara Beardi, Mercedes M. Cardona, Hillary Chura, Alice Z. Cuneo, Kate MacArthur, Catharine P. Taylor, Rich Thomaselli, Laurel Wentz

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