The press release that hit the wires a few hours after the terrorist attacks on September 11, the one that explained how the World Trade Center collapse “highlights the need for Quantum Tech’s remote backup,” will live in infamy as an example of how not to pitch your product in the wake of a tragedy. But many companies had products and services that were relevant to the recovery effort, and those companies were able to tell their stories effectively, using common sense and sensitivity.
Telecommunications company Lexent Corporation, for example, was among the companies that had helped rebuild the communications infrastructure around the World Trade Center after the first terrorist attack on the buildings in 1993. At the end of the first week after the attacks it distributed a release announcing that all its employees were accounted for (it’s offices are at 3 New York Plaza, in the shadow of the twin towers) and that the company was “fully operational.”
Meanwhile, the company’s public relations firm, PepperCom, was monitoring the news media to keep track of the kind of stories reporters were covering. By the end of the first week, many news outlets were going beyond the rescue effort to look at how the financial district was being rebuilt in preparation for Monday’s opening of the New York Stock Exchange.
There was an enormous interest from the media in how Wall Street is going to be rebuilt,” says PepperCom’s Deb Brown. “A lot of that interest is focused on the communications infrastructure. Local and network television news stations were looking for experts, people who understood what needed to be done. Some of them contacted us because they had seen the company’s trucks.”
The firm succeeded in placing stories with AP, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, but the most significant coverage was on CNN. Says Brown, “CNN actually spent a day with the company, following its executives and its technicians around to see at first hand how they are rebuilding the area’s communications infrastructure.”
The CNN piece followed Lexent technicians from 7am, when they headed out of their offices to go to work, to a location in Battery Park City where they worked to retrieve and repair an AT&T cable, and included interviews with the company’s president, Kevin O’Kane, and the head of its national network technologies division.
Said the report, “Some strategic analysts are saying that the terrorists will strike next at America’s infrastructure, but as we watch this next report, it’s clear that’s not going to work.  New York City’s largest fiber optic cable installer is already working fast to get the city reconnected after last week’s attacks.”
Tower Group, a financial services consulting firm, wasn’t in a position to roll up its sleeves and get involved in repairing the communications infrastructure, but it was able to provide the media with some useful information on the costs of rebuilding.
The firm, headquartered in Needham, Mass., was not unaffected by the disaster.             “They have lost a lot of colleagues in the financial services industry,” says Anne Green of public relations agency CooperKatz & Company. But the company also knew it could use its expertise to help reporters who were trying to put a dollar amount on the devastation.
In the wake of the tragedy Larry Tabb, vice president of the firm’s securities and investments research practice, put together two-page report on what it would cost to rebuild. The company estimated that it would cost approximately $3.2 billion to replace the technology destroyed for securities firms, $1.7 billion for the hardware (trading stations, workstations, PCs, and the like) and $1.5 billion for services and software.
“We selected some top tier media and released it to them on a very careful basis,” says Green. “We found the press was anxious to have some concrete numbers they could use.” The numbers appeared in stories in The New York Times and The Financial Times.