Where Do We Go From Here? – reflections from September 2011

On September 24, 2011, I commemmorated the month's terrorist attacks by curating a column for eMarketer (where I then served as an editor) entitled, "Where Do We Go From Here?" For the first time on this blog, I'm republishing it in its entirety. My thanks go out to all the individuals below who tried adding some clarity in a time of such great confusion. 

Where Do We Go From Here? 
By David Berkowitz

For several months, as part of eMarketer's interview series, I've been asking executives, authors and analysts a slew of questions. This week, I ask only one.

On personal and professional levels, there are many questions I want answered.

Personally, I need to know how I can feel safe as a citizen of a democracy. I want to find out how I can help. I wonder where my college buddy Paul Battaglia is.

Professionally, I'm curious as to the long-term impact of the 11 September attacks on the financial markets, what role these ongoing events will play in the already shaky realm of online advertising, and if eMarketer's phone lines will be fully functioning anytime soon.

I like to think my question featured for this interview is the best question that could be asked at a time like this, something Walter Cronkite would ask. Instead of worrying too much about that, I chose a question I want answered both personally and professionally. I want to move forward. I want to look to the future, find out where we're going and how we can get there.

I contacted some people I previously featured in this interview series along with some others whose opinions I value highly to ask them all, "Where do we go from here?"

 


John Henderson 
Vice President, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment's Ad Sales Network
 

We all have the opportunity to re-evaluate life.

Where We Go from Here… 
…depends upon the path by which we choose to travel.

We should use this opportunity to enrich our lives personally, professionally and most of all spiritually.

 


Geoff Ramsey 
CEO, eMarketer

Where do we go from here? On a business level, there's only one direction to go: forward. Although some businesses were more directly impacted by the terrorist strikes than others, all firms have a vital role to play now in keeping the engine of our economy running. In the spirit of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand, each of us doing our share — of buying and selling — will drive the economy forward. Now, more than ever, business leaders must be focused, courageous and bold in action.

 


Esteban Piedrahita 
CEO, Zoom Media Group, Inc. 
(Publishers of Punto-com and Ponto-com)

I am extremely glad that the US and its allies have taken some time to think through the appropriate response to the global terrorist threat, for a true, long-term solution is by no means clear cut. I fully agree that Bin Laden and his cohorts are fundamentally evil (much like Hitler and his S.S.) and that they have to be hit hard. However, I believe that the right way to do it is through a concerted global effort under UN leadership (with the US and NATO as "first among equals") that may include "surgical" operations with air and ground troops in Afghanistan, as well as a global "war" on terrorism by other means (diplomatic, financial, educational, etc.). Broad war on and blanket-bombing of Afghanistan would result in thousands of civilian deaths and will not achieve any purpose other than alienating the Muslim world even more. A UN operation will help attenuate anti-American feeling and create a broad alliance with China, Russia, Europe and the civil leaders of the Arab world that would be key to preserving long-term peace in our planet.

Moreover, the US needs to abandon its isolationist bias — so dear to some in the current administration — and fully engage the world. The United States needs to embrace the fact that globalization is a reality and that problems have to be solved through global thinking and global action. For all our rage, we must not fall into the temptation of believing that military "short cuts" will lead to lasting solutions.

 


Masha Geller 
Editor in Chief, MediaPost Communications

Where do we go from here? There's only one answer to that question — we go forward. We have to. Chances are, things will get far worse before they get better — both politically and economically. I'm confident that our military, our politicians and our allies will eventually win the war on terrorism. Our economy, however, needs our help now more than ever. In the business world, marketing and advertising budgets are the first to get cut in times of trouble, even though we've all been told time and time again that those cuts are deadly in the long run. So we stay the course with our upcoming product launches, our marketing plans, our media plans and advertising schedules and we show the world that we can and will go forward and survive this.

 


Greg Strakosch 
CEO, TechTarget
 

In the terrorist attacks of 11 September, a group of fanatics sought not only to kill thousands of innocent civilians, but also to wound our national psyche. In the past few weeks, it is clear that we as a nation have been in a state of horror and heartbreak. Today, the economic indicators of our nation's health are shaky.

But what has begun to emerge from the wreckage of these attacks is an extraordinary reaffirmation of the creative spirit of the American people. We in the business community can only humbly follow in the path that has been forged by the doctors, firefighters, police, nurses and construction workers, who, in the wake of these horrific crimes, rolled up their sleeves and went to work at Ground Zero. Theirs was an act of charity and a uniquely American act of defiance.

Today, we too can defy those who wish to destroy the values that lie at our core. The American people have demonstrated throughout its history an entrepreneurial genius that has made us, even today, the most productive and hardest-working people in the world. We owe the victims and those orphaned by these unspeakable acts our collective act of defiance against those who would crush this spirit. We owe them the economic prosperity and security that can only come from rebuilding what they tried to tear down. Where do we go from here? We go to work.

 


Allen Weiss 
Publisher/Executive Editor, MarketingProfs

If news events dominate our society in the coming months, its effects on marketing will likely be profound. Consumers will re-prioritize their purchase behavior by not buying, and most of all, advertising will have to become sensitive to the fact that people want content, not ads that detract from their goals of learning about things that affect them (news is higher than sex in search engines since last week). Pop-ups and other cute things are likely to annoy more than ever before.

 


James Tenser 
Principal, VSN Strategies
 

1. Despite the rhetoric of many of US politicians and news media, the coming struggle is not about America. More than 1,000 citizens of more than 60 nations outside of the US died in the World Trade Center collapse. If we appeal to the shared values of legitimacy, humanity and mercy, the United States may well find itself in the lead of a multinational coalition dedicated to ending terrorism through a combination of physical action and patient, persistent, humanistic policies, and the bad guys would surely lose.

2. The coming struggle is also not about oil, religion, ideology or homeland. Those are merely factors complicating the much broader issues. The basic conflict remains between the haves of the world and the have-nots. The terrorist masterminds manipulate the thinking of desperate, impoverished people in order to advance their unstated goal — the pursuit of power. If we persist in applying sanctions against governments which serve only to victimize their poorest citizens, we become complicit in the manufacture of new zealots for the terrorist masterminds to use to their own ends. People who believe they have a stake in their own and their families' future on this Earth do not, as a rule, commit suicide attacks. If we continue, through actions or inaction, to create an underclass of people with nothing to lose, the bad guys gain.

3. To impede the activities of international terrorists we must block their ability to accumulate and move wealth. Terrorist organizations control significant financial assets. They shelter, launder and move those funds with impunity, under an umbrella of international banking laws and customs. To cripple terrorist operations, we must locate and freeze those assets, through expedited due process, rule of law, and technological attack. If the banks — of any nation, including our own — do not voluntarily cooperate, legitimate governments must compel them to do so. Any funds seized should be used to make reparation to the victims. In this scenario the good guys definitely gain.

4. So what is the implication for e-business? It's a blade that cuts two ways, I suspect. On the one hand, internet communications and commerce have been employed as tools for the terrorist organizations. By guarding privacy through policy and custom, the web enables conspirators to remain in contact, to steal identities, to move funds and to disseminate propaganda. But online investigation may provide a means for rooting out the terrorists and those complicit with them. E-business activities — especially funds transfers — leave an electronic trail behind which may be followed by legitimate law enforcement officials.

5. Finally, it would seem that American consumers have hunkered down a bit in the aftermath of the 11 September events. The National Retail Federation has already revised downward its retail sales projections for the fourth quarter. What is not yet understood is the extent to which shoppers may change their habits in favor of online and catalog purchases while consciously staying closer to home and away from places of public assembly, including shopping malls.

 


Jimmy Guterman 
Editor, Industry Standard's Media Grok newsletter

Where do we go from here? We do our work as well as we can, we treat one another as respectfully as we can, and we find meaning in both.

 


Stephanie Schwab 
CEO, Erotigo
 

The weeks and months ahead will be a very difficult time for New York: our people, our lives and our businesses have been changed forever as a result of this tragedy. It will take incredible strength from everyone in this city to repair the damage and rebuild, but that is what we must do. Resourcefulness and tenacity are the hallmarks of those who work and live here; we will utilize those abilities and others as we continue to exhibit the greatness of New York City.

For me personally and for my business, raising capital for a wireless startup was difficult before the tragedy and I expect it will be even more difficult in the coming months. I will take Mayor Giuliani's message to heart, though: I will continue to work to build my business until it becomes one of the many New York/Silicon Alley success stories. The road may be more challenging than before, but my personal drive and belief in my business has kept me going throughout the internet downturn and I won't allow it to slow now.

 


J.G. Sandom 
President, RappDigital (a division of Rapp Collins Worldwide)

First and foremost, we have been working with our clients, employees and associates to heal the suffering. For example, we have offered immediate real estate and operational relief to other members of the Omnicom family. Chan [Suh, agency.com chairman and CEO] and I have been friends for years and when the agency.com offices in New York were closed due to the tragedy in lower Manhattan, we offered to lend him space and support services until they get back on their feet.

We are providing free counseling to anyone in the organization that requires it… and many do. We are offering employees a chance to donate to the United Way, either directly through a check, or via payroll deductions. We are also working with the DMA [Direct Marketing Association] to do some pro bono work on behalf of the American Red Cross.

In addition, a client, eSpeed (part of Cantor Fitzgerald), had five floors in one of the World Trade Center towers. Indeed, some of our immediate staff were scheduled to meet with them on Tuesday morning — thankfully, at 9:30, so none was injured. The entire eSpeed organization was not so lucky. Cantor has 700 missing! In response, we have built them an IP-enabled (web front end) database to archive the status of those missing since Tuesday. As they receive calls, remaining eSpeed staff members (as well as volunteers from RappDigital) are accessing the database to provide updates on the status of the missing. We are also working with them to build a site to memorialize those we fear are lost — 700 pages, one for each of the missing. This kind of pro bono work is the least that we can do.

From a macro business standpoint, we believe that the tragedy of last week and ensuing "war" will only worsen the recession, at least in the short term. As we read about major layoffs in the travel industry, we thank our lucky stars that we have such a diverse client base; most of our clients work in fairly recession-proof sectors, such as pharmaceutical/healthcare. In addition, our agency's offerings are the kinds of services that actually benefit during downturns. We don't just do large web builds, or e-business re-engineering. Our singular focus on ROI [return on investment] and online customer relationship marketing means that we're more about retention and loyalty than pure acquisition.

Finally, one silver lining to the dark cloud that hovered over Manhattan last week — if there is one — is that we believe the climate of anxiety will probably stimulate the adoption of e-commerce. Sadly, our citizens are fearful of traveling right now, of even leaving the outer boroughs or surrounding states to come shopping in New York. And frankly, this is true throughout the country, not just New York. When you couple this with the recession, we believe that bargain hunters who are safety conscious will increasingly turn to the Web to find those things they just can't find locally. As a result, our enhanced service offerings become increasingly important. Providing e-commerce opportunities that are highly relevant (based on CyberAnalytics) to consumers via smart banners and e-mail (e-messaging), ensuring that e-tailers maximize profitability by leveraging cross- and up-sell opportunities (via CRM online) will become increasingly important in this environment. Sad but true, I believe.

Life goes on.

 


Kathy Foley 
Editor, Nua Internet Surveys

While the international community is (almost) totally united in revulsion at the appalling attacks on the US, now we are waiting and worrying about what will happen next. We continue with our daily work and routine as the best tribute to those who lost their lives, but fears of war, and of global recession, are never far away.

All we can do is shore up our businesses, scale back on risk-taking and expansion for the time being, and hope against hope that no more innocent lives are lost in the name of terrorism, or in the fight against it. One thing is certain. Whatever steps are taken by the US, the repercussions will be global.

Thirty-three years after the famous anti-war protests in the US, the whole world is still watching.

 


Dave Morgan 
Founder, TrueAudience

The events of September 11 — which, unfortunately, was also my 38th birthday — in no way reduce my confidence in the long-term prospects for online marketing and advertising. I am still very, very optimistic. However, I also believe that managing a company in this market will be much more difficult, since this will only make a bad market worse. I think that there is no question that the market will develop more slowly for the next year or so, and that weak companies and weak products will not make it through this period. The key for success will be an incredible focus on short-term ROI — whether you are in online media, online direct marketing, or providing software or services. The winners will be able to offer their customers value for modest investment and show them very quick pay-backs. In my mind, that will be the only reality in this space for the next two years.

 


Anne Holland 
MarketingSherpa.com

As famed Manhattanite and author Fran Lebowitz noted on NPR [National Public Radio], all the magazines she got in the mail during the past week (which were created, printed and mailed before WTC events) seemed obviously of another era. Old fashioned. How will this effect mainstream marketing and editorial? I dunno. MarketingSherpa's sales hit record highs this week after the disaster. But I don't count on that for the future. Media companies like mine are getting some lucky patriotic fall-out orders I think. This winter 2001-2002 is forecasting to be a long cold hard one.

An internet millionaire who we all know and love called me yesterday to see if he could get a freebie from my store because he's so famous. He kept on having to leave the phone to yell at the construction guys who are building his new patio at his new house. Naturally I said, "No, you gotta pay," but thinking back I wish I'd asked, "And how come all the millionaires like you aren't buying stock now to keep the economy from plunging?" I know a lot of little, tiny dot-com owners who are doing so.

 


Bill Lessard 
Founder, Netslaves
 

We go on, we continue and we hopefully progress. If the terrible events of the past week have taught us anything, it's that life is precious and shouldn't be wasted on hatred, or petty concerns. We owe it to those who suffered and to ourselves to be the best people we can be.

 


Anna Zornosa 
CEO, Topica

Looking forward, I am struck with the duality that the world seems at once more intimate and global than it did before September 11th. It is more intimate because at work, at home, and within the circles of friends and colleagues, there's more demand for communication than ever before. In the workplace, our employees want "Rudy": strong shoulders, a sense of direction and — most importantly — a sense of heart. At home my children want the same. My friends and colleagues have never been more sharing or what is in their hearts and minds… and the need for the therapy of communication has never been so profound. Because e-mail is my passion as well as my profession, I'm delighted to see how critical it has been to myself, and the hundreds of thousands who use Topica to organize their one to many communications.

 


Douglas Rushkoff 
Author and Cyberculture Guru
 

We will be forced in the coming months to find a balance between our civil rights and our need for security. I, for one, hope we err on the side of the former. The best way to protect an open society is to remain one.

New York City and, more importantly, Washington DC, now have the opportunity to evolve geopolitics to a new level. The world's eyes are on us. I object to harsh rhetoric against the United States, because I think we tend — like any school child — to behave as we are expected to. If the world assumes we are violent and childish, we may just respond to this tragedy in that way. This is not the moment to attack Americans verbally for their nation's failings. If America's harshest critics (both within and outside our borders) use this as an opportunity to challenge us to develop a more enlightened international policy — one that is consistent to the core with our own rhetoric — we may just rise to the occasion.

We must come to understand what conditions lead people to surrender their free will, and live by decree instead of choice ­- and then we must fight to eradicate those conditions. We must continue to develop cultural and spiritual tools that help people appreciate the value of human life. We must encourage the notion of free will and free expression, along with the resistance to social programming. We must protect and extend an interactive mediaspace, which promotes collectivism and creativity over isolationism and fundamentalism.

It's time to network.

 


Al Vos 
Associate Professor of English, 
State University of New York at Binghamton
(and a mentor to this interview's author)

I'm very concerned about the way many people identify targets for retaliation, and name villains. We need to guard against the trap of believing that the way to restore our country is to lash out with overwhelming force against some named enemy. This is the time to think outside that terrible box of escalating force, and the pernicious belief that massive retaliation will bring peace and security. Yes, of course, there are evil people in the world. But now is not the time for beating the drum about cowards and war and "victory."

Let's remember that sadly the country with the best anti-terrorist practices in the world is also the most unsafe and insecure country in the world. And you know whom I mean! We have ample evidence of the futility and senselessness of believing that evil can be overcome if we can just pinpoint it and then go after it. In my view now is the time for truly radical, visionary thinking — in the vein of Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Alas, right now the countries most desperately in need of such visionary leaders don't have them.

Pray that they arise.