A forgotten, and forgettable, United States president named Calvin
Coolidge was widely reputed to have said: "The business of America is
These days, there may be business, but hardly business as usual.
Long after the 11 September terrorist attacks, the American advertising,
marketing and media businesses are still struggling to find their
footing. That's especially true in New York, the epicentre not only of
most of those industries but, of course, the location that bore the
brunt of most of the casualties.
New Yorkers are still describing themselves as feeling as if they are
sleepwalking, or trying to breathe underwater, or enveloped in a fog, or
encased in plastic bubble wrap, or any of several other expressions to
convey that what until recently had been real life now seems
The bread-and-butter business of Madison Avenue - account changes,
people moves, new campaigns for clients, acquisitions - comes across now
as silly, insignificant, even inappropriate.
Some people get it, and for the time being at least they are thankfully
being patient and understanding. Others, painfully, just don't get it at
all. The latter are mostly publicists, already starting to circle
journalists like buzzards in Death Valley homing in on stranded
For instance, the following is from an e-mail from a flack for a West
Coast agency. It is verbatim except for the identifying details, which
have been deleted to protect the guilty: "With all that has transpired
of late, just wanted to make sure that you received the press release
(with photo) I sent over about **** (formerly of ****) joining **** as
president. Please let me know at your earliest convenience. Thanks so
Here's the opening of another e-mail, repitching an article on the
results of a survey after the original dialogue was put off in the wake
of the attacks: "I am recontacting you about a study we conducted about
In light of recent events, what we learned and its implications are much
more vital to marketers now than even two weeks ago."
Then there's this excerpt from another publicist's e-mail. Notice the
deft segue from terror to brass tacks: "Of course, this incomprehensible
week makes moving forward with work seem so trivial, but I wanted to
give you advance notice of the upcoming **** launch of the next
generation **** and offer you an exclusive on it."
Last, but not least, is this audacious gambit: "Hope this note finds you
and your loved ones safe and recovering from the events of last
For any losses you may have suffered, I am truly sorry. In recent years,
a disaster of sorts has also hit the technology sector, leaving dotcoms
strewn about the business plain. It may interest you to know that among
the thousands of failed enterprises, one, ****, not only continues to
turn a profit but shows positive cash flow in its fifth year of
Lest anyone think the preceding can be explained, or forgiven, as the
sorry statements of someone far from the catastrophe, the e-mail ends
with this parenthetical explanation: ("I am temporarily put out of my
offices at ****, one block from Ground Zero, but my phones and e-mail
address are serving nicely as a virtual office.")
There's no business like schmo business.