Attack Shakes Conference Routine
September 24, 2001
At 8:15 a.m. on Sept.11, Dan Sondhelm and Bob Tebeleff, two public relations executives from Norfolk, Va., checked out of the Marriott World Trade Center with the usual business in mind. They would host two press events in New York City that day, one in the financial district, one in midtown. Both events would promote smaller fund companies as well as a back-office firm called Quasar.
Instead, the two men faced, not just the cancellations of their events, but a citywide, then nationwide shutdown of business as usual. And they were there to witness it firsthand.
Both men were lucky enough to join the exodus from the financial district, wandering uptown in what became a chaotic day of tracking down business associates, calling family and finding a place to stay that night. In the end, everyone was accounted for.
Two weeks later, an industry that thrives on these events and relies on them to strike new relationships, has been paralyzed by the attacks, bringing all of that networking to a sudden halt. Organizations from the Investment Company Institute to the Institute for International Research cancelled or postponed financial services events and continue to do so.
They fear that the emotional tone across the country renders an inappropriate backdrop for such conferences. And the difficulties of cross-country travel, the general fear that has shaken the populace from boarding airplanes and the looming specter of yet more travelers getting stranded have all contributed to the cancellations.
"It's having a big effect," said Sondhelm, who works at a firm called Sunstar. "Companies are nervous."
IIR cancelled a conference on separate accounts slated to take place in New York Sept. 12. It has postponed or cancelled other events as well, said the company's president, Debra Chipman, although she would not be more specific. "Things are changing on every front," she said. "We are postponing some events; we are holding some in our current dates where we can. We're doing it on a case-by-case basis."
Chipman said information about schedule changes will be available at the company's Web site, iirusa.com, but as of press time that information was not yet posted.
A Loss of Relevance
The ICI, meanwhile, cancelled a tax accounting conference slated for Sept. 23 through Sept. 26 in Orlando, said spokesman Chris Wloszczyna, who, instead of flying to a news directors conference to promote the organization, found himself staring at a TV screen at a locked-down Dulles National Airport.
"Folks whose businesses may have been affected may be focused on other issues," Wloszczyna said, adding that after the attacks the ICI began asking itself, "Can people fly down there?" and, perhaps more importantly, "Are people actually going to be able to concentrate?"
There is still uncertainty about what's going on in terms of the nation's safety, Wloszczyna said. "I think we're all still waiting for the other shoe to drop."
The organization is providing refunds to those who already registered for the Florida event.
Marcus Evans Conferences will reschedule two conferences, one slated for the week of the attacks in New York on Sept. 12 and 13 and another about financial software, said the company's marketing manager, Steve Megy.
The disaster left two Marcus Evans employees stuck in New York, though they eventually worked their way home safely.
Sondhelm and Tebeleff, meanwhile, are preparing to return to a life of networking. Sondhelm said he spoke with several reporters and others who said they look forward to seeing the industry nudge its routines toward normalcy.
"Without us even asking, I just got an e-mail this morning that said, We hope you are going to reschedule.'"