PR firms in Boston and nationwide react to marathon bombing

One PR firm owner in Boston worried for the safety of her employees; others nationwide advised clients to halt their social media efforts.


A number of employees of the PR firm InkHouse Media + Marketing were at the Boston Marathon on Monday, where two bomb blasts exploded near the finish line. One staffer was running in the race.

Although the InkHouse office was closed because of its proximity to the marathon route, the firm’s owner Beth Monaghan reached out to her staff to ensure everyone was safe.

“For now, I am telling everyone to get home and be with their families,” she told PR Daily via email in the hours after the blast. “That is all that matters until we know that everyone is safe.”

At the time, Monaghan hadn’t accounted for all of her employees, some of whom were at the finish line. Thankfully, by the end of the day, she had received word that her entire staff was safe.

The two explosions that erupted near the race’s finish line killed three people and injured more than 100 people, according to published reports. The bombs detonated roughly four hours after the men’s race had begun.

“Today is a sad day for the City of Boston, for the running community, and for all those who were here to enjoy the 117th running of the Boston Marathon,” the Boston Athletic Association, which organized the marathon, said in a statement posted to its Facebook page. “What was intended to be a day of joy and celebration quickly became a day in which running a marathon was of little importance.”

The association extended its deepest sympathies to those affected by the tragedy.

“It’s so upsetting,” a race contestant from Chicago told sister site PR Daily. She finished the marathon 50 minutes before the blasts, and she was able to find her parents, who had also flown to Boston for the event.

A number of marathoners and their families were stranded in Boston, but residents opened their homes to those stranded visitors.

PR entrepreneur Peter Shankman, a New York resident who founded the Web service Help A Reporter Out, tweeted the names of two PR agency owners in Boston who could help the stranded. Amanda Griffith, the owner of Bumble PR in Norton, Mass., near Boston, was among them.

Brands advised to halt social media updates

When a major crisis strikes, whether it’s a hurricane or a school shooting, brands often display a tin ear by tweeting promotional or off-topic messages as the rest of the Twitter world fixates on the matter at hand.

With that in mind, a number of people on Twitter reminded social media managers to halt their automated tweets. For instance, Scott Monty, the social media chief at Ford, tweeted:

A number of PR firms and consultants instructed their clients to stop sending automated tweets.

“We recommended that all clients stop scheduled tweets to show respect for the tragedy that was unfolding,” Monaghan at InkHouse said.

Despite the warnings, Adweek found a number of tweets that brands sent on Monday that were insensitive, as well as several on topic.

Press conferences from Boston police department, White House

Hours after the attack, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis held a press conference in which he warned people to stay home and avoid congregating in large crowds.

“People should be calm, but they should understand that this is an ongoing event,” he said.

At 6:10 p.m. E.T., President Obama delivered a televised address, telling residents of Boston that the “American people will be with them every step of the way.”

“We still do not know who did this or why; people should not jump to conclusions,” he said. “We’ll find out who did this and why they did it.”

Obama promised that those responsible will “feel the full weight of justice.”

Attack aftermath plays out in real time on social media

As television networks started their reporting on the bomb explosions, details from the scene were pouring in on Twitter, as people tweeted pictures and updates from the race site. A surge of tweets offered prayers and well wishes for the race contestants and spectators as well as residents of Boston. The hashtag #PrayforBoston became the No. 1 trending topic on Monday.

As the afternoon wore on, the topics of discussion on Twitter swung wildly from reports of additional bombings—a third incident at the JFK Library was not related as was originally reported—to media gadflies wagging their fingers at news outlets that filed incomplete or incorrect reports about the tragedy.

At one point, “Muslims” became a trending topic, as vitriolic tweets blaming the incident on Islamic extremists burbled to the surface, followed by even more tweets denouncing the speculation.

Officials also used social media to spread pertinent information regarding people’s safety. Google, for instance, launched a people finder site for those in search of someone at the marathon and for the people at the event to check in.

The Boston Police Department’s official Twitter account became a reliable source for information during the incident. Police have also used the account to appeal to the public for video from the finish line.

Anyone with information about the bombings to call is asked to call 1-800-494-TIPS.

Ragan.com staff reporter Matt Wilson contributed to this report.

Topics: PR

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