OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

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

pathetically unreal.

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

much, ****."

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.