Business not so usual after Katrina

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On the evening of Aug. 29, Elaine Christoph, senior VP at McCann Erickson WorldGroup's LCI in New Orleans, attended a co-worker's wedding, though half of the 500 invited guests had already left the city. At 7 a.m. the next day, after the storm changed course, she and her family filled a small suitcase, gathered insurance papers and birth certificates, piled into the car and fled.

" It was not as bad to see it all gone as it was waiting and knowing it would all be gone," said Ms. Christoph. "That Sunday was the worst day of my life."

Now, many of the ad-industry denizens like Ms. Christoph are trying to piece together lives changed irrevocably by Hurricane Katrina. Jessica Nettles, an account director at Zehnder Communications, and her art-director boyfriend, Chris Cobb, who works at Trumpet, left New Orleans on the 28th and haven't returned. Now working out of Natchez and living with Ms. Nettles' grandmother, the couple is "assessing," said Mr. Cobb."We'll decide what to do once we can get back."

Jeff Zehnder and Mike Rainey, principals of 28-employee Zehnder, are operating from Baton Rouge. "My supervisor is encouraging us to use the office e-mail and keep in touch," said Ms. Nettles. "I don't think Jeff will go down without a fight."

For many, Web sites, e-mail and text messages were crucial to finding and keeping track of staff. Late last week, advisories directing employees how to reach management were posted on the home page of Zehnder, as well as that of Peter A. Mayer Advertising, one of New Orleans' oldest shops. "We're keeping in touch via the company server, laptops, and cell phones," said Mr. Cobb of Trumpet, which didn't lose any employees.

For others, including Ms. Christoph and Mr. Cobb, work is more than ever a source of support. "We've got people in Los Angeles, in Texas and Baton Rouge. One of our partners is setting up shop in Atlanta," said Mr. Cobb. "Even as we're dispersed, we're keeping together." With laptop fired up, he continued to work on a campaign for client Real Mex restaurants. Ms. Christoph, now working from an LCI office in Houston with two colleagues, said the company "is a rock to hang on to."

In addition to offering New Orleans employees guaranteed employment in other offices, LCI cut checks for workers in the region and set up donation funds. In addition to funds created by McCann for LCI, both McCann and Interpublic contributed to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Various WPP Group agencies, set up programs to match employee donations. Omnicom last week pledged $3 million.

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