Reflecting on 9/11 and Community PR Communications

To commemorate the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I’m sharing links to coverage along with my views on how the attacks immediately reshaped community public relations and communications.

To me, today is a day to remember, reflect and consider how communications, and life, is always changing.

September 11 Memorial Information

9/11 Memorial Site

Google News about September 11 in 2010

Twin Towers twitter RSS feed, a trending topic on Twitter this morning

Reflecting on How 9/11 Immediately Impacted Community PR and Communications

On September 11, 2001, I got up and went through the usual motions of a mother with three children to get off to school. My husband was away on business in Rotterdam and I was excited to be dressed in a snappy navy pant suite for a meeting with our local school district about photographing the annual report. I marveled at how beautifully the day was starting out.

On our way out the door to walk my boys to school, the phone rang. A friend was calling with the first news about the attacks. I didn’t say anything to the boys, but I told I’d call her back after I dropped them off.

Walking down our quiet, sunny street the news was surreal. How could a day seem so idyllic when the world was falling apart? I could only think about when and where the next attack would be. Arriving at the school district headquarters, the staff was stunned and silent, gathered around a radio, listening for updates and quietly considering crisis communication responses.

Every year on this day, I think back to those first few turbulent hours after the tragic event and remember how fragile the world seemed and how strong and calm we needed to be as education communicators.

We also needed to find ways to communicate quickly, accurately and effectively. At that time, most community organizations – including schools – had no email database, only phone numbers and addresses. While the press could and would cover news, it would be on their deadline and in their voice. Producing a letter took time to write, print or copy and mail. Backpack communications was the most reliable and quick route to homes.

After 9/11, community organizations became more receptive and willing to gather email addresses, connect leaders online and form councils to relay information in case there was another crisis – or good news – that needed to be delivered quickly.

As an early email adapter, I became an advocate and a teacher on how to transfer communications to a digital platform to reach the media, leadership and the community at large.

The school district approved my proposal to develop an e-newsletter, only for teachers and the press at first. Eventually, subscriptions were open to the public. Thanks to Mary Kay O’Grady for asking me to manage these projects for her team.

I did get to photograph the cover of the 2001 annual report. The concept started out as an image of teachers gathered around a flagpole in silence. I had another idea, which was approved in its place. I asked if I could photograph my son’s first grade class releasing butterflies. After the butterflies flew off, I took pictures of the fifth graders replanting a barren prairie patch. Images from each made the annual report with a community theme of new life and recovery.

Because a crisis can strike anytime, here’s a post I wrote about how to plan ahead for crisis PR.

How did 9/11 affect your company or community’s communications?

Image from the 2010 Butterfly Collection by Barbara Rozgonyi for copyright 2010

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 thoughts on “Reflecting on 9/11 and Community PR Communications”