- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

Spokesmen, logos, jingles, slogans, swooning models and a talking dog or two: This was once the typical advertising agency arsenal.
Now, add counterterrorism to the list. Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, one of the largest public relations concerns on the planet, has established "Counter Threat," a new division meant to usher corporate clients into the potential dangers of a post-September 11 world.
"The terrorist attacks have brought home the idea to many companies that they can be seriously affected by things completely beyond their control and out of their own geography," said Kamer Davis, who is coordinating the service from Ogilvy's Washington office.
It is a sobering moment, perhaps, for an industry preoccupied with the selling of underwear and autos. It is also a first: Ogilvy has now "branded" counterterrorism measures, assigning this very serious business a catchy name and streamlined purpose.
"What happens in a worst-case scenario? What happens if a company's whole infrastructure gets knocked out? You can't just dust off an old crisis management program and hope for the best," she said.
Indeed, Ogilvy plans to offer "emergency scenario-based" exercises for employees, crisis counseling and threat assessment of telephones, computer data and Internet resources, based on similar work done for federal, state and local agencies. The market, they believe, is expanding.
"The corporate sector can't afford to ignore this anymore," said Ms. Davis.
Some believe it is a wily marketing move by Ogilvy, which counts Coca-Cola and drug giant Pfizer as clients.
"This is an effort to be taken more seriously, to get really close to clients, right down to their desk drawers," said Richard Linnett, a columnist for Advertising Age. "Ogilvy is reinventing some old stuff, but they're getting beyond advertising. Antiterrorism services are another way to tap into more business, to be needed on a very basic level."
Others are getting on the bandwagon. Though it lacks the gutsy cachet of "Counter Threat," Ketchum, another global top-10 public relations agency, established a new "Issues and Crisis Management Network" in January.
"The big question is whether the agencies are competent enough to handle the demands of the field," Mr. Linnett said.
Interest in terrorism preparedness is yet another indicator that change is afoot in American advertising since September 11.
After the attacks, the collective creative prowess of the nation's biggest agencies went into patriotic gear, resulting in a continuing series of uplifting public service campaigns produced by the Ad Council.
Marketing images, music and messages came under close scrutiny in a newly sensitized commercial landscape. "Things that might have worked on September 10 are no longer valid," observed George Gendron, editor of Inc. magazine. "Everyone in the public relation field and media is struggling with it."
The attacks also inspired Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to appoint advertising expert Charlotte Beers as undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, charged with giving the nation a "brand" with a global image and media message.
It is a tricky business, though. The Pentagon's "Office of Strategic Information" was shut down in a matter of days, after rumors surfaced that the office might peddle disinformation, which the Department of Defense later denied.
Some critics faulted the State Department for trying to sell the United States as if it were soap.
The "branding" idea has merit, countered Allen Rosenshine, chairman of the advertising agency BBDO Worldwide, as long as it captures "the sense of decency, fairness and opportunity that characterizes our country." Mr. Rosenshine called for a carefully crafted and consistent message.
"The usual critics notwithstanding, what makes us good at selling soap can help us sell America," he wrote in the Feb. 18 issue of the Advertising Age.


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