More Than 200 Answer Red Cross Plea for PR Volunteers
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Holmes Report

More Than 200 Answer Red Cross Plea for PR Volunteers

More than 200 public relations people responded to a request for volunteers to help the American Red Cross with its public affairs operations in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Paul Holmes

NEW YORK, September 13—Jamie Drogin, a public affairs associate in the New York office of Burson-Marsteller, had worked for two years as a media coordinator for the American Red Cross before joining the giant agency, so she knew the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 8.45am on Tuesday that the relief group would need public relations volunteers.
When Drogin left work on Tuesday evening, she went directly to Red Cross headquarters, where she was welcomed with open arms. She started work at 6pm remained on duty until 11am the next morning, answering media calls, setting up media briefings, and otherwise providing a buffer between reporters desperate for information and rescue workers even more desperate to go about their business of searching for survivors.
Drogin was one of more than 200 public relations people who volunteered to help the Red Cross deal with the biggest disaster it has ever seen on American soil—most of whom responded to a request for volunteers coordinated by the Council of Public Relations Firms and disseminated by the PR trade press, including this newsletter, which e-mailed more than 2,500 subscribers and friends on Wednesday and Thursday.
Says Drogin, “The American Red Cross deals with about eight to 10 disasters every day in New York city, but most of them are fairly small in scale, from one-family fires that seem unimportant to us but are very important to the people involved. There are about 25 active PR volunteers in New York who are on call to help and assist, and a full-time PR staff of about six or seven people.”
But to deal with a disaster on the scale of the World Trade Center attacks, the Red Cross needed six people on site at all times, each working 12 hour shifts.
“Our focus is on handling the media and making sure all the information that needs to get out gets out,” says Drogin. “After the mayor announced that 12 shelters were being set up, we worked with the Office of Emergency Management to make sure the media knew where they were and how people could get there. We worked with the national office to field national media inquiries. We scheduled a media tour for Red Cross officials on Wednesday morning. We handled requests for interviews from all of the network affiliates.”
When Drogin showed up, there were just two volunteers. By the time she left on Wednesday morning, the organization had its full complement of six—although at that time more were still needed for the weekend.
But the news was getting out to the PR community, and in a statement issued on Friday morning the Red Cross said, “We are very thankful for the overwhelming support we have received from the New York metro area public relations community.
“At this point, we are completely staffed and do not need any additional volunteers. If this situation changes, we will make additional efforts to reach out to the community. Thank you again for your overwhelming personal and professional support at this time.”
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