A few nights ago, after a long day at work, I settled into my couch and turned on the television. I started watching a documentary on SBS about 9/11. Even after 10 years, seeing the devastation of that day still brings me to tears.
I was in New York City that fateful day. I had moved to New York about nine months earlier, hoping to kick off my PR career in the Big Apple. That morning was like every other. I was getting ready to go into the office (I was working as an under-paid intern at a small PR firm in midtown) and had NY1, the 24-hour local news channel, on in the background. I watched as sketchy reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center surfaced. At the time, the reports were of a small place accident and there was alarm but no concern. I gave my family a call as I walked to work, telling them what I had just seen on the news. I am so glad I made that call because for the rest of the day, my mobile phone did not work. At least my parents knew I was ok!
By the time I arrived at the office and turned on the TV, the second plane had hit and I knew that something more serious was happening. My boss rang and told me to go home immediately. Our office was in Times Square and it was feared that other famous landmarks could be targets. It did not help me too much because I lived only a few blocks away in Hells Kitchen and my apartment looked across to the Port Authority, a major transportation hub. The good thing was that my central location meant that my home became a gathering place for all my friends. By midday, about 15 people were at my house, all anxiously watching the TV and trying to get a hold of loved ones. Call traffic was so high that it was basically impossible to make any phone calls. We had friends who worked in the area and we had no idea if they were ok.
Later in the evening, there was a call for help and volunteers. New Yorkers were asked to come to the Javits Convention Center with supplies—bandages, gauze, rubbing alcohol, etc. We gathered everything we could and walked over to Javits, about 20 blocks away. It felt like I was in a movie. The streets were empty. All you could see were rows of armed soldiers lined up and down the streets. There were military trucks everywhere and flares lit up the road. We arrived at Javits with hundreds of other people. Candle vigils and flowers were laid everywhere. From this vantage, you could see downtown and it hit me; the World Trade Center towers were gone. It was real.
For the next few days, the city was at a standstill. There were missing person flyers posted all across the city. The faces of thousands of people were plastered on every lamp post, wall and window. The gravity of the situation was overwhelming. People walking down the street would just suddenly break out in tears. There was also fear. No one wanted to go outside, no one would take the subway. But slowly, day after day, life normalised and a community spirit and sense of camaraderie took hold of the city (which, believe me, was a change from the usual brusque, fast-paced, in-you-face New York attitude.)
About eight months later, I showed up at Edelman’s door applying for a position to work exclusively on a new client account the firm had just won: the City of New York. I thank my lucky stars every day that I got the job! For the next five years, I worked with the Mayor’s office and other state and federal government agencies to manage the Lower Manhattan Public Information Campaign, a program designed to provide people who live, work and visit Lower Manhattan with essential news and information about the area and its recovery, including the various rebuilding developments planned for the area. As New Yorkers tried to rebuild their lives after 9/11, consistent and clear communications from the government was critical.
The integrated communications campaign included a popular news website, www.Lowermanhattan.info, which included hundreds of pages of content created daily by our team of former journalists (the website has received 4.5 million visitors); a brand identity; marketing materials; advertising; newsletters; grassroots outreach and stakeholder engagement. We created partnerships with more than 80 stakeholders ranging from government agencies to civic groups to nonprofits. It was true 360 degree communications or “Transmedia Storytelling” as Edelman now calls it. I was so proud when the campaign was recognized with awards from PR Week, PR News, Public Relations Society of America, and the Center for Digital Government.
Working on the Lower Manhattan Public Information Campaign was so meaningful to me. I felt like every day, the work I did helped rebuild the city, rebuild businesses, rebuild lives. It made me realise that a career in PR could have meaning and be worthwhile.
You can learn more about the other ways Edelman helped support the city after 9/11 on Richard Edelman’s blog. I am sure he will post a tribute this year as well so stay tuned.