Firefighter in 9/11 law-firm ad wasn’t at 9/11

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A law firm specializing in 9/11 lawsuits is feeling the heat today after the New York Post revealed that the firefighter in its latest "I was there" ad wasn't, actually, there at all. Firefighter Robert Keiley joined the FDNY in 2004, and was working as a model when he posed (above left) for what he thought would be an ordinary fire-prevention ad, the Post reports. His image was then Photoshopped to show him holding a photograph of one of the collapsed towers. The law firm, Worby Groner, blames the ad agency, Barker/DZP. Bizarrely, an account director there seems to have no regrets—saying the agency was within its rights to use the image because Keiley had signed a release. "It allows for use in ads, promotional usage, really anything you want," says Kim Tracey. Legal or not, it's ridiculous to use someone who wasn't at 9/11 in an ad that looks like a testimonial from someone who was—particularly given the sensitive nature of the topic. Keiley himself is furious. "I had friends who died on 9/11," he says. "How can I look their families in the eye if they see this picture, thinking I'm trying to make money on their [loved ones'] deaths? They'd probably think I'm a scumbag."

UPDATE: John Barker, president of Barker/DZP, released the following statement on Monday:

  Our agency sincerely apologizes for any pain caused by this ad, which was written about in today's New York Post.
  When creating the ad, we purchased stock photography of an actor dressed as a firefighter, and we obtained all required model releases and real property owner releases, specifically including use for any purpose (such as advertising) as well all rights regarding the manipulation and/or alteration of the image. This is standard procedure for advertising agencies. At no time did we have any idea — nor could we have had any knowledge — that the person in the photo, Robert Keiley, was an actual firefighter, much less a New York City firefighter. This unfortunate coincidence makes the ad into something we never intended it to be.
  The intent of the ad is very positive: making the heroes of 9/11 aware that funds are now available to help them through the Zadroga Act. It was never our intention to offend anyone with this effort, quite the opposite in fact.
  We hold all firefighters in the highest regard, and believe all New York City firefighters are heroes. While our mistake was entirely inadvertent, we understand why the ad has caused hurt, we regret its use, and we accept responsibility. Our client was uninvolved in the selection of this photo and had no knowledge of any of these details. Out of respect for all parties involved, Barker/DZP has voluntarily withdrawn from this assignment.
  We sincerely apologize to Firefighter Keiley, as well as the New York City Fire Department, and the brave firefighters who fearlessly served their city and gave their lives on 9/11.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.