My Toughest Week in PR

We recently passed that fateful date when we pause to remember 9-11 heroes and seek to learn from our past. Where were you on that day? Does it dishonor the memory of those fallen to hand the PR microphone in the U.S. today to one who seeks to do a public relations whitewash of his words and deeds against people of goodwill everywhere? 

On 9-11-2001 the Novell marketing and PR teams were together in the Georgia World Congress Center for Networld + Interop (N+I) with 50,000 attendees and exhibitors. I was standing next to the new Novell CEO, Jack Messman, preparing to take the stage to brief the team on PR protocol for the show. Russ Dastrup, a very talented marketing whiz who was standing behind me, answered a phone call from his wife. After a couple of minutes he said that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.  

Thus started one of the hardest week’s of my PR career. As details of the tragedy unfolded the trade show unraveled. Novell lost millions of dollars in sunk costs associated with N+I. The company’s media announcements fell largely on deaf ears as all eyes were towards NYC. The press criticized Novell for continuing with the day’s plans until the details of the disaster became clear. From the largely deserted and very expensive press room, the PR team fielded a few media inquires regarding the effect on Novell. The massive marketing machine of a Fortune 500 company slowly ground to a stop. As Novell had employees in the twin towers the effect on the Novell family became especially sober.  

That was a tough week. On 9-12 Novell chartered and loaded a bus for employees who didn’t want to wait for the airports to reopen. There were many takers. I stayed at the Marriott until four days later I finally was able to catch a Delta flight home. Did I mention that was a tough week?  

Novell had a layoff one month later resulting from the huge economic ripple effect of that day. Our world has been changed forever by that day. 

I so appreciate living in a free country where the press is largely unconstrained and we have the right, no, the gift and responsibility of free speech. However, there are limits to free speech and we may have crossed appropriate limits today by providing a PR bully pulpit to a tyrant. Here’s hoping we cherish and protect that right – remembering freedom isn’t free. What do you think?

About the Author:

As founder of PilmerPR, John Pilmer, APR serves as a PR and marketing communications advisor for both emerging and established companies. He offers customers more than 20 years of results-driven business PR and marketing experience. John and the firm have provided PR consultation and campaigns for clients such as Mozy, Novell, AdvancedMD, Certiport, NextPage, ElectraTherm, Altiris, Avamar, EmergeCore Networks, FSLogic, INVISUS, 10x Marketing, MWI, Project Insight, REIC, Seastone, US Synthetic and Funding Universe (now Lendio), among others.

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