Marketers' messages focus on relief efforts as ads, conferences canceled

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In the aftermath of last week’s attack on the World Trade Center, scores of companies affected by the disaster began earnest marketing campaigns to not only show solidarity with families that lost loved ones, but also to show clients they were financially sound and ready to fulfill their business obligations.

Companies and business organizations with much human, business and financial exposure to the horrific events of last week—from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., the World Trade Center’s largest tenant, to UAL Corp., which lost two planes to hijackers—are putting marketing decisions at the center of their post-attack strategies:

•Drastically affected companies, including The Boeing Co. and The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., are temporarily canceling their advertising.

•State Farm Insurance Cos. today starts an ad campaign in support of relief efforts.

•Tech vendors, including Bigfoot Interactive Inc. and PlaceWare Inc., are making their marketing software available for free to companies that use it for relief efforts.

•Conference organizers, including The Direct Marketing Association and the Outdoor Advertising Association, are canceling or postponing events.

The companies, some of which are dealing with employee deaths, are not currently viewing marketing as a means to realize profits but rather as a way to aid those in need and to position themselves for the trying days ahead.

Chicago-based Boeing, which built the four jets that were hijacked by terrorists, has temporarily canceled its advertising. It is a move the company usually makes after air disasters, said Anne Toulouse, VP-brand management and advertising.

"We traditionally do this anytime we have something of this nature. ... We pull our advertising for a period of time," Toulouse said. "We have pulled our TV, and we will evaluate on a day-to-day basis. We have pulled corporate TV, and we pulled it domestically and globally." The company is still running trade print ads for space units, rockets and the shuttle program.

Boeing put into effect a contingency and crisis plan, created within the past year, that includes "a council with all the advertising representatives," Toulouse said. The companywide group held a teleconference last Wednesday, a day after the tragedy.

Respect for victims

The Hartford, which has much business insurance exposure to New York, has also temporarily pulled its ads, a move it views as respectful to those most affected by the disaster.

"We’ve pulled our advertising, and decided it’s the best thing to do," said Sue Honeyman, Hartford spokeswoman. "We decided that it was much more sensitive to this tragedy that we not be out there commercially advertising."

FedEx Corp., the favored overnight carrier of most of the financial companies involved in the New York disaster, has also pulled its ads, citing respect for those affected by the tragedy.

"When it first happened, the only change we made was we immediately pulled any ad from cable news networks and any of the broadcast network news," said Carla Richards, a FedEx spokesperson. "Our ads are still pulled until they resume with normal programming."

All b-to-b companies should take the moves of FedEx, Boeing and Hartford under serious consideration, said George Rosenberg, CEO of The Rosenberg Group, a New York crisis management firm. "It’s not the time to start selling or promoting," he said. "It’s the overt exploitation of this timeframe that you want to avoid."

State Farm, another company with insurance exposure to the New York disaster, today is starting a radio ad campaign with The American Red Cross to highlight appeals for blood donations and financial assistance. "We’re in the business of trying to help people to recover from the unexpected," said Jack Weekes, State Farm VP-marketing. "We’re trying to advise in a non-sensational way."

Morgan Stanley, meanwhile, has been contacting institutional clients online and offline, advising them of its grief and financial stability amid the disaster. "The shocking events of this week at the World Trade Center have not posed a financial problem for Morgan Stanley but a deeply human one," reads a letter from Chairman Philip Purcell on the company’s home page. Last Thursday, the company ran a full-page ad in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, expressing sympathy for friends and family killed in the World Trade Center attack. The company was unavailable to comment.

Morgan Stanley had 3,700 employees at the World Trade Center, most of whom were able to exit safely before the tower fell.

James Burchill, CEO of crisis management and public relations firm James Burchill Associates, said Morgan Stanley’s marketing reaction was the right one. "The tone should be that we’re solid financially, people are just trying to get their positions liquid, they’re not trying to take advantage of this," he said.

Travel cutbacks possible

At least for the short term, the disaster put the brakes on the events business, which was already slumping before the attacks.

The Direct Marketing Association canceled its "New Direct Marketing" show scheduled for Sept. 12-13 in New York. H. Robert Wientzen, DMA president-CEO, said he didn’t foresee a dramatic drop in events in the wake of the attacks.

"When the economy is tough—and this tragedy is going to make it tougher—there’s an increasing need to get information about how your market is responding," Wientzen said. "Some people will be afraid to fly now, but the eventual need to deal with economic problems will overtake those concerns."

Still, in a survey taken by the Business Travel Coalition the afternoon of the day of the attacks, 88% of the respondents, or 165 companies, answered "yes" when asked if their employees will unilaterally cut back on travel in the coming weeks, suggesting there may be more cancellations in the weeks and months ahead.

Events affected

Last week’s attacks affected events in New York and elsewhere:

•The Outdoor Advertising Association canceled its annual conference, which was just getting under way in New York on Tuesday.

•The American Business Media e-media conference, which started last Monday, was canceled about an hour into Tuesday’s session, after the second jetliner slammed into the World Trade Center. The annual ABM Publishers Roundtable, scheduled for Sept. 13 in Chicago, was also canceled.

•Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. canceled its Web Enterprise Forum set for Sept. 12-13 in San Francisco.

•Macromedia Inc. postponed its Macromedia Web World event, scheduled to start today in San Francisco.

•Phillips Business Media Inc. has not rescheduled its Media Industry Newsletter Day, originally planned for Oct. 1 at the World Trade Center.

Michael Westcott, director-marketing at the George P. Johnson Co., Auburn Hills, Mich., one of the oldest events companies in the country, said that in the short term "people are being sympathetic" to the attacks. However, "the need to network at important events will continue for people who have a strategic reason to be at the show."

Airlines get the word out

Most major and regional airlines posted open letters from top executives on the Internet, and many had taken broader steps.

UAL Corp. set up its Web site home page with a message from CEO James E. Goodwin. This home page is normally a jumping off point for accessing plane schedules, reservations and frequent-flier programs. The Elk Grove Township, Ill.-based carrier made it possible for people to reach its standard services through a redirect on the Web page.

American Airlines CEO Don Carty posted a similar letter of condolence on behalf of Fort Worth, Texas-based parent company AMR Corp., which lost two planes to hijackers in Tuesday’s attacks.

Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines, two carriers not directly involved in the terrorist attack, also published letters from top executives.

Andy McDill, spokesman for Delta, said it is premature to know how b-to-b marketing will change in the attack’s aftermath, but all phases of the Delta operation will be affected, he said.

Already operating under bankruptcy protection, Midway Airlines, Morrisville, N.C., ceased flight operations Wednesday, citing an expected drop in air travel demand and the likely tightening of financial markets.

Some b-to-b marketing technology companies, including Bigfoot Interactive and PlaceWare Inc., have been reaching out to companies and government organizations that want to use their platforms to aid in relief efforts.

"We think it’s important for clients to send a message to their customers on their grief and sorrow and in support of their country," said Al Diguido, CEO of New York-based Bigfoot Interactive. The company is making its e-mail marketing software available for free.

Mountain View, Calif.-based PlaceWare, meanwhile, is making its Web conferencing platforms available for free and is e-mailing financial companies once situated at the World Trade Center with the offer, said Marlene Williams, VP-marketing.

Senior Reporters Kate Maddox and John Evan Frook, Reporter Matthew Schwartz and Contributing Writer Sean Callahan contributed to this report.

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