Agencies Stoic in Face of Catastrophe

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Leading direct marketing agencies and public relations shops in New York are attempting to be stoic in the wake of the kamikaze attacks on New York and Washington.


"It will be days or weeks before we fully recover from the still-unfolding effects of yesterday's horrendous events here in New York and in Washington," Stan Rapp, chairman of MRM Partners Worldwide, New York, said in a Sept. 12 internal memo to employees.


Rapp and top executives at Grey Direct, Wunderman, BSMG Worldwide, Agency.com and K2 Digital reported their employees were accounted for.


In terms of location, MRM, Grey, Wunderman and BSMG are based in midtown New York, some distance from the devastated World Trade Center complex. Agency.com and K2 are downtown, within a mile of what are now remains of New York's tallest buildings.


"Everyone who works for Grey Global Group is OK," said Larry Kimmel, CEO of Grey Direct, New York. "Naturally, many of on our staff know people who were impacted by the events."


The same was true at MRM, whose office was on heightened alert yesterday after police confiscated a suspicious package at nearby Grand Central Terminal.


"We have no reports of injuries to anyone at MRM Partners in the air or on the ground," Rapp said. "For this, we're most grateful."


David Sable, CEO of Wunderman New York, said his agency's employees were all accounted for, though they were still reeling from the shock.


"There's nobody who doesn't know someone [at the World Trade Center], and it's a tough time," Sable said. "We've touched base with our clients on Tuesday, and everybody's safe with the exception of people who are directly grieving."


Besides the loss of human lives, at the top of every mind is the cost to the economy. Agencies are in touch with their clients and, in their best way, are trying to cope with the catastrophe.


"We have been busy responding to our clients' needs and offering any assistance we can at this difficult time," MRM's Rapp said without elaborating on the nature of response.


"At this point, we have seen no change in short-term plans by any MRM client," Rapp said.


Grey Direct's Kimmel echoed that sentiment.


"These are difficult times, but we'll get through it," Kimmel said. "While our clients are understanding, we have many dedicated people who were busy helping meet client needs, and others are taking a little more time to recover.


"America is a great country," he said. "We will not let terrorists keep us from going about our lives and being great on an ongoing basis."


BSMG, which on Sept. 30 will become Weber Shandwick Worldwide and the world's No. 1 PR agency with revenue of $500 million, has seen its clients reining in marketing spending, albeit temporarily.


"Most of them have gone dark in terms of their advertising, but we haven't received any cutbacks," said Jack Leslie, chairman of BSMG. "Obviously, we're not undergoing normal activity right now, and I suspect it won't happen for a few days."


BSMG has been working overtime. Its top clients, American Airlines and Marriott Hotels, were unwilling pawns in this act of terror. For instance, BSMG executives have been working around the clock, manning AA counters at major airports and media centers.


Wunderman's Sable has not seen any extreme reactions from clients but acknowledged that campaign activities may have slowed.


"I think people are just thinking to themselves, 'Do I really want to have an outbound program today? Is that really the most appropriate thing? Maybe I'll wait a couple of days.' That's for sure. I would cancel that myself," Sable said, referring to outbound efforts like telemarketing and direct mail.


"I would just say that out of respect people aren't just focusing," Sable said. "I think people have their attention elsewhere."


But the executives are confident that the economy will gain support from its traditional American resilience. Grey Direct's Kimmel thinks that it is critical at this juncture to keep an appropriate balance of caution while maintaining focus on the economic engine.


"Now, more than ever, companies need to report strong profits, each and every quarter," Kimmel said. "There is no better marketing method to ensure that increased profitability is delivered. We are seeing many clients move dollars into direct initiatives."


And there are those are less sure.


"Yes, the events of this week will change the way we do business long-term," MRM's Rapp said. "What we are seeing among other things is the first instantaneous global response of unprecedented magnitude to a tragic event in one corner of the world.


"No one in the world can feel entirely safe in the foreseeable future," Rapp said. "What effect this will have on doing business will unfold as we go forward."


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