In these troubled times, let us pause to honor the brave men and women who give of themselves unstintingly to defend and protect the American Way of Life. I am speaking, of course, about public relations and marketing professionals.

From a press release recently sent to business reporters: Although the last few weeks have been a challenging time for everyone both personally and professionally, I know that we are all striving to return to "normal." In the coming weeks as you begin to return to your regular areas of focus, I wanted you to be familiar with Chef America, makers of HOT POCKETS brand sandwiches.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "Wait a minute. Why are these things linked? What do HOT POCKETS brand sandwiches have to do with the current national crisis?"

Don't be such a ninny. You are thinking like an ordinary civilian, whereas the sender of this release is thinking like a frontline, in-the-trenches public relations and marketing specialist. HOT POCKETS, the press release informs us, are right in the middle of the "many trends emerging in the food industry as a result of world events."

I know. Now you are thinking, "I'm no expert, but this seems to represent flagrant opportunism, possibly even bordering upon egregious exploitation." (You think a lot fancier than you speak.)

Well, you're wrong. This release cannot possibly be tasteless because it issues from no less distinguished a source than Porter Novelli International, a company that is, to quote its Web site, "a world leader in the field of brand building and reputation management."

HOT POCKETS, it turns out, have everything to do with the events of September 11. Because people are upset, they are seeking "familiar flavors and comfort foods," foods exactly like the humongously delicious HOT POCKETS. And because folks are cocooning at home, presumably in fear of exploding airplanes, airborne contaminants, scimitar-wielding turbaned assassins, etc., nothing could be more convenient for their active lifestyles than these "fast, no-hassle frozen hand-held meals and snacks."

That's not all. Another trend in these anxious days is "ensuring food safety." (HOT POCKETS are tamper resistant.)

And finally on the trend front, good news for readers bummed out by world events: The release urges newspapers to disclose "the healthy growth of food companies during difficult economic periods." Take Chef America, for example, whose brands "command a 38 percent share of the $1.3 billion Frozen Hand-Held Meals and Snacks retail category."

Yes, we have all seen an explosion of advertisements using American flags and patriotic language to sell things as random as cars and beer: That is good tragedy utilization, trendwise, but, let's face it, it is not great tragedy utilization. Porter Novelli had the courage to take that final step and actually identify, as a prime marketing opportunity, our own fear.

You are thinking, "To whose arse should we administer a swift kick for this?"

Stop being so negative and hostile. This is not remotely opportunistic, Porter Novelli says.

"I see why you are asking the question," said Amber McCasland, the PR person who sent out the release. "A lot of people out there are trying to capitalize on the events, but I don't think that's something we're trying to do. We were just trying to say we have a company, which we're trying to introduce to different people, and after September 11 less people are eating out. People have been gravitating to comfort foods, in family-oriented dinners, and this gives a family an opportunity to make something at home that is convenient, nutritious, tasty and fun!"


At first I was surprised that the image burnishers at Porter Novelli failed to mention, in the press release, the true fact that Chef America has donated a substantial amount of money to disaster relief. (I learned that from its Web site.) But then I realized this was counterintuitive, PR-wise. People don't buy HOT POCKETS because they are grateful to the manufacturers for their humanitarian gestures. They buy HOT POCKETS because they're scared of Osama.

I acknowledge that these guys at Porter Novelli are the best in the biz (hey, they got me to mention HOT POCKETS brand sandwiches nine times), but I think I may actually have an idea or two of my own that can help them out.

I looked up a list of their other corporate clients. They're missing some glowing opportunities, vis-a-vis disaster opportunity. For example, they represent Bristol-Myers Squibb ("Tired? Got the blahs? Feeling a little anthraxy?") and the steelmakers of America ("A nation trending toward airplane-resistant buildings . . .").

And finally, think of the niche marketing possibilities:

They also represent Gillette, the maker of razor blades. You know, for these really depressing times.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is