The immediate toll of death and destruction caused by terrorists in lower Manhattan on September 11th, 2001, is widely known. However, the long-term health impacts of the World Trade Center collapse are uncertain. The smoke, dust and toxic fumes, coupled with the psychological trauma of witnessing the attack, may have affected thousands. The New York City Department of Health (NYC DOH) and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) created the WTC Health Registry to track health effects of the World Trade Centers collapse over the next 20 years. Doing so required the participation of those who were living, working in, or passing through lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11 — including members of search and rescue crews. Ogilvy PR was charged with providing both public relations and advertising support for this recruitment effort.
Our interviews and focus groups with people qualified for the registry pinpointed serious challenges to getting large numbers of people registered. Some members of the target audience were suspicious of possible government involvement in 9/11, while others feared reopening wounds that were still painfully fresh. Our research further indicated that campaign materials should be racially and culturally diverse, to accurately reflect those who lived and worked in lower Manhattan at the time of the attack. Most importantly, the appeal for registrations had to come from a credible source. After testing a number of approaches, we determined that the most credible recruiters were other survivors who had agreed to join the registry.
With this in mind, Ogilvy PR, the NYC DOH and the ATSDR created a survivor-focused tagline: "I was there September 11th. That's why I'm signing up for the World Trade Center Health Registry." Brochures, ads and outreach and education materials used this tagline and featured images of men and women who were at or near Ground Zero on 9/11. The campaign ran on ad space in the subway system, on local ferries, and near the Brooklyn Bridge; while print ads ran in the New York Times and Newsweek, and in targeted publications such as Fireman's Quarterly. Ogilvy held a registry launch event on September 5, 2003, getting coverage from nearly every New York print and broadcast outlet in the process which, in turn, raised awareness of the WTC Registry web site — a source of news and information to help people learn whether they met eligibility requirements.
The "I was there September 11" campaign generated 36.5 million audience impressions, 21.2 million print impressions, and 10.6 million broadcast impressions. As a result, the WTC Registry's URL is the most visited section of the New City Health Department's web site. The client was able to go well beyond its goal of 50,000, eventually registering 71,000 individuals for their 20 year study.