On 9/11

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US, including the World Trade Center towers.  Like everyone else, I can remember exactly where I was at the time – such a pivotal moment in global history and a very personal experience.

In September 2001, I was heading Marketing for BU Multiservice Networks and we had worked for the past year or two on creating a brand for ENGINE, which was our solutions brand for next generation networks.  It had been a massive uphill battle against the mobile part of Ericsson and we had succeeded in getting a large advertising budget and hiring one of the leading PR firms in the world, Publicis out of London.

In March of 2001, Ericsson announced a profit warning, and we scaled down the campaign to be more on the Internet, direct mail, banner ads, telecoms media, events and a wrap-around for the Herald Tribune and other world newspapers that would be a 4-page color ad that would be on the outside of the newspaper.  Ericsson was (and is) a B2B brand, other than Sony Ericsson , and we wanted to reach our target service provider customers rather than the general public.  So, we were going to put these wrap-arounds in telecoms offices, business buildings and other places where executives would get their newspaper in major cities around the world.  The total campaign expenditure was around $20MUSD.

In a previous campaign, we had used the images of children to put a face on the technology, and this was largely due to the perseverance of my marcom creative manager, Christina.  For this campaign, Publicis had (eventually) come up with a campaign around “Dangerous Business Decisions Made Safe“.  Remember this was a time (much like today), when businesses were struggling post internet boom, stocks were falling, and companies were scaling back on their capital expenditures.  The images we chose were all evaluated with great care and depicted people who made their livings putting their lives in danger. These included firemen, policemen, rescue workers and the like.  This was as opposed to people who did dangerous things like skydiving, mountain climbing (ahem!) or other self-induced, self-pleasuring activities.

We did a soft-launch on September 6th with the internet site going up and planned grand opening was set for September 11th.  The key wrap-arounds featured firemen entering burning buildings and policemen saving people from life-endangering situations.

We had been living and working in Stockholm for almost 4 years by this time.  We were also going through a reorganization at the time and I had called for an all-staff meeting together with my new big boss; the meeting was set for 3pm and the group size at that time in Marketing was about 140 people.   At about 2:59 as I was walking to the podium (we had taken over the cafeteria in the building for the meeting), I got a call that said that a small plane had gone into the World Trade Center.  They did not seem worried and the first reports were of a light plane.  I said, oh gosh, gotta go back to my meeting.  We proceeded with the session, but throughout people started getting phone calls and text messages about the disaster that was taking place.  We ended about 430pm (around 1030 am New York time) and by then we were aware of what was going on.  We all gathered around the PC in my office or by the TV’s in the common areas and were as shocked and amazed as anyone.

It was not until that evening that I and we realized that the campaign and newspaper ads and wrap-arounds featured firemen and policemen entering burning buildings, and by then we knew that hundreds of firemen had lost their lives and were heroes of the terrorist attacks.

We of course decided to immediately pull the ads and get the newspapers out.  I still have several copies with the 9/11 date and the shocking campaign.  Here is one of the relevant emails from that evening:

From the head of Ericsson Corporate Communications to Ericsson Executive Staff, dated September 11, 2001, timestamp 19:11


I just got information from Mitch Lewis that we stopped the ENGINE campaign as it includes themes like fire and rescue that might offend parts of the public and media. Whilst this should only be communicated to media if there are specific questions, please include this in internal memos so that staff is informed about this action.




Another email from the following morning referencing our print ads in Telecommunications Magazine and other trade magazines:

The vision ad (fireman) is in the following issues in September (already out!)

Telecommunications International

America’s Network (in this issue we have two ads: Fireman and policeman)

Asia Communications


I am looking into the October issues and will have an answer soon!

————–  Another email on September 12th from our PR agency: ————————–

—–Original Message—–
From: ..@Publicis.co.uk [mailto:…@Publicis.co.uk]
Sent: den 12 september 2001 11:45
Subject: Ericsson Engine – Urgent

Hi Guys

In light of conversations this morning, we’re pursuing the following course of

– all printing of materials are on hold
– ascertaining what ads have been supplied to publications and what we can
– ascertain what imagery/text we would need to change for the brochure/roll
fold CD-Rom

We are continuing to get all the translations in and the database information
we are expecting back today/tomorrow.

At the moment the course of action is based around the use of the Fireman ‘Safe
Exit’ however, some of the other imagery may also be deemed sensitive at this
time e.g Policemen ‘Back Up’.

On a quick analysis we believe that we could change the Fireman imagery in
brochure/roll fold and adjust the text with a delay of about a week and a half.
The biggest problem we face however is around the CD-Rom and changing imagery,
it may be that we would need to have a complete rethink of this project.

Given the amount of investment that has gone into this campaign in both time and
money, one question that needs to be raised is can we afford to put the whole
thing on hold?  We could aim for an early November start and take a call on that
within the next 2 weeks.

Please feel free to call me to discuss.

Kind regards


So what happened next: over the coming weeks?  It turned out that we were right about the public’s reaction in that these people were heroes and we had captured the sentiment at the time, just prematurely and it would have been wrong to take advantage of this in light of the casualties.  We did go forward with the campaign but took a low key approach in the months ahead.

I have thought about the events of that day for some time but watching news reports and testimonials on the ten year anniversary of 9/11 have brought up the feelings again.  Even as I type this, I still get goosebumps and nerves thinking about that time and what it was like to be living in a foreign country and to be launching a campaign that was so close to what had happened in many ways.

Having just written about the power of communications and the confluence with social media, I am struck by the genuine goodness that disasters can bring out in people.  It was technology that brought the images to the world that day and it was social networking in the highest order that brought people together at the time they needed it most.