Public Relations Tactics

Reflecting and rebuilding: The PR goals of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum

September 1, 2011

The National September 11 Memorial will be dedicated on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and will open to the public on Sept. 12.  The National September 11 Museum is slated to open in September 2012.

Michael Frazier, who serves as the director of communications for both the museum and the memorial, caught up with PR Tactics to discuss managing campaigns and media outreach, the challenges that his team encountered, how they’re using social media and the museum’s long-term communications goals.

What led you to your position at the memorial and museum?
I’m a former journalist.  While working in the Newsday bureau at New  York City Hall, I covered all aspects of the reconstruction effort at the  World  Trade Center. I had a keen interest in the subject.  What better way to get closer to the story than joining the organization at the heart of rebuilding the World Trade Center site?

Will the current 9/11 Preview site space and its exhibits be integrated into the new museum space?
The 9/11 Memorial Preview Site will continue to educate the public on the memorial and museum, which was its initial purpose when it opened in 2009.  Within the first year of its opening, it had more than a million visitors. With the memorial opening in September, the space and the exhibits will focus slightly more on what visitors may experience in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which opens in 2012.

Describe a typical day for you as the director of communications.
The media interest is unrivaled. I’ve never been a part of something like this and I’ve covered some unforgettable stories as a reporter.  The Public Affairs and Communications Department is a staff of six. Of those, two — including myself — focus more on media strategy and communications. In recent months, most days are spent fulfilling requests from reporters across the globe that want to see the physical progress of the memorial.

However, my overall strategy has been to align this organization with global digital companies like Yahoo!, which has the resources to reach audiences throughout the world — helping us honor and remember the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 attacks — to educate and to preserve the history of 9/11.

What challenges have you experienced leading up to the opening so far?
Not being able to share as many stories as I would like given that the focus has mainly been on the opening. [But] we’re not going anywhere.  There will be plenty of time for those compelling stories.

How do you manage the tone of your campaigns?  What is the best way to be convincing while still being tactful and compassionate?
There are unforgettable stories of courage, bravery, triumph and heartbreak born out of the attacks and the days that followed. Given the sensitivities, there isn’t one approach.  You have to be aware of the concerns, listen to any input and try to find the best balance depending on the campaign.

What sort of media outreach are you doing? Is it more New York-centric, national or international?
A couple of years ago, when I first started, I was surprised when people in my Brooklyn neighborhood were unaware that a memorial was being constructed at the World Trade Center site, and that it would be opening soon.  When I traveled, and told people what I did for a living, they too were unaware of the incredible progress.

So I refined the communications strategy at the organization. I began micro-targeting local, state and regional media outlets to make sure they were reporting on every angle of the memorial’s progress. I proactively reached out to global media companies, while finding specific stories for media outlets in major markets in the United States.

As a former reporter, I know that if you are just pitching news releases you are wasting your time. You have to have a good story to carry your message. And I have an ear for good stories. 

How are you using social media to spread the word about the opening?
We have an institutional blog that I created and launched called The MEMO blog. (The first four letters in “memorial” give the blog its name.) The MEMO provides content that readers can’t find anywhere else. Our Twitter handle is @sept11memorial and we have a solid presence on Facebook.

We design specific campaigns for Twitter and Facebook, but both are mainly used to keep people updated on what we’re up to and provide a place for people to connect and share their personal 9/11 stories. Our entire department has greatly improved our social media channels. It’s pretty exciting.

What are the long-term communications goals for the museum?
I want to continue to improve our communications outreach through digital media. I believe that traditional sources — newspaper,  TV and radio — are incredibly important.

However, the reach of digital media will ensure — beyond the spotlight attention brought by the 10-year anniversary — that people in every corner of the globe will know what the National September 11 Memorial and Museum has to offer, and that it is this country’s authority on all things related to the history of that unforgettable day. 

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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