One of the most important aspects of public relations is to address the needs of clients and raise public awareness of the issue at hand, which is exactly what was exhibited ten years ago by Korey, Kay, and Partners, a New York based advertising agency. They addressed a need so great that it remains a topic of interest to public perception debates and a relevant aspect for security measures implemented by our Government today.

Shortly after the events of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security launched a national public awareness campaign entitled “If You See Something, Say Something” to raise awareness of indicators of terrorism, crime, and the reporting of suspicious activities to the proper authorities. Korey, Kay, and Partners pitched the idea to the Department of State, Department of Justice, and then newly created Department of Homeland Security, as a way to restore a sense of security. Initially, the government agencies expressed very little interest in using the idea.

After contemplating the idea of mixing communication with public policy efforts, the Department of Homeland Security eventually changed their minds. The campaign was issued in conjunction with the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, which both emphasized that homeland security began with hometown security making sure the public stays alert to their immediate and extended surroundings.

Korey, Kay, and Partners developed five text ads, and it wasn’t until two years after the initial release of the campaign did the agency add supporting images. The current slogan came out of the results of surveying twenty-four randomly selected New York subway riders. Initially, the campaign began in New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) being displayed on trains, buses and billboards. The campaign has developed from the tunnels of the subway in New York, various forms of commerce in big cities, and recognizable monuments and sports events nationwide. Its growth is unprecedented.

Over time, public perception of this campaign has been mixed. Allen Kay, CEO and Chairman of Korey, Kay, and Partners, knew that there could be concerns regarding the campaign ranging from artificially creating panic to the campaign being used as a scare tactic exaggerating future terrorist attacks.  Some individuals expressed that they paid little attention to the effects of the campaign. This concept of inducing public fear is an ideology that remains discussed to this day, as ongoing efforts are carried out under the now officially licensed campaign under the Department of Homeland Security.

Was it effective? You be the judge. Over the years, the public awareness effort has had the support of campaign partnerships with major cities, government agencies, and universities in addition to major league sports associations and local entities such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). A survey conducted in 2007, stated that the number of reports of suspicious packages in New York City jumped to 37,614 from 814 in 2002. After ten years of campaigning, regardless of how it was perceived, the numbers show that the campaign achieved its goals by raising public awareness of a significant issue and successfully met the needs of the client.