Small Businesses Struggle Over How to Honor 9/11

Ten years after the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the images from Ground Zero remain every bit as vivid and painful as they did a decade ago.

As the United States and the world abroad now prepare to mark the milestone tenth anniversary of 9/11, a great effort is being taken by all to address the occasion with respect and dignity.

From major news organizations to national sports teams, tributes and acknowledgements in remembrance of September 11, 2001 are nearly impossible to avoid. But for the advertising industry and American companies both large and small, deciding whether and how to acknowledge the 9/11 anniversary is among the most delicate and sensitive matters many have dealt with in their entire careers.

“The 9/11 anniversary is having a broad impact on the advertising world,” business analyst Mike Randazzo tells the Intuit Small Business Blog. “Everyone is trying to be as sensitive as possible to the occasion without being totally removed from it.”

A Lose-Lose Situation

J. Walker Smith, executive chairman at the Futures Company consultancy, recently told the New York Times, “We’ve been saying to people, there’s probably no right way to do this. If I were a marketer, I would let the moment pass. Anything you do could be seen as self-serving or disrespectful.”

“Obviously,” Randazzo adds, “you can’t run a ’9/11 special’ at your business. That would be inexcusably exploitative and completely disrespectful to the memory of the lives we lost that day. On the other hand, I have seen some businesses, particularly health and fitness-related enterprises, tastefully offer discounts to public safety officials this month. In reality, that sort of move is wonderful because you are, in a very real sense, honoring and giving something back to the heroes of 9/11 — firefighters, police officers, etc. But even that sort of move is still going to upset some people.”

Marian Salzman, chief executive at Euro RSCG Worldwide public relations, says the quandary born of addressing — or not addressing — September 11 through your business is virtually a lose-lose situation no matter how you slice it.

“On one level,” Salzman admits, “you want to convey a sense of empathy and sympathy and patriotism. On another level, there’s a belief that every milestone in American history has been turned into a marketing opportunity. My advice would be to go dark. There’s no place for brands to live.”

A Quandary Best Left for Social Media

“It’s unfortunate,” Randazzo says, referencing the aforementioned quandary, particularly as it pertains to companies that sincerely want to honor the victims of 9/11 with zero profit motive underlying their actions.

“What you are going to see across the marketing landscape is an outpouring of commentary in the social media realm,” Randazzo speculates. “It’s the safest, least offensive place to take your message of unity, support, and remembrance. Rather than referring to 9/11 in any ad or promotional materials, I think you’re going to find smart companies of all sizes simply acknowledging 9/11 on Twitter, Facebook, and across the blogosphere with uncomplicated messages of remembrance.”

“At the end of the day,” Randazzo concludes, “that’s what this weekend will be all about –- remembering the tragedy that permanently changed our world one decade ago.”

About Michael Essany

Michael Essany is a former E! Entertainment Television host and nationally published author who was recognized by A&E Biography in 2005 as "One of America's Most Remarkable People." Michael currently serves as Vice President of Indiana Grain Company, LLC.
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