Decisive action can save Riversplash

    This just in … Man shot in downtown Milwaukee … Too many drinks lead to drunken brawl.

    Could be any Saturday night in our fair city of beer and brats, right? But this donnybrook has drawn extraordinary attention for its proximity to Riversplash, the unofficial kickoff to Milwaukee’s pride- and revenue-producing festival season.

    Organizers of Riversplash, which takes place on the Milwaukee River, have a window of opportunity to ensure the event sees its 20th anniversary in 2009. More than anything, they must take immediate, public and ongoing action that demonstrates how things will work differently moving forward.

    While every situation is different, damage control typically starts with taking steps to identify what went wrong, what will be changed and what will be done in the future to prevent Riversplash from becoming "Thugland by the Riv."

    For politicians, event organizers must give them the cover they need with their constituents to once again support Riversplash. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) summarizes constituent relationships very well.
    "Convince my constituents," he says. "If they’re for you, I’m for you. If they’re against you, there isn’t a way on God’s green earth I’m going to support you."


    Part of this constituency includes media and talk show hosts. Event organizers must demonstrate why the story line and commentary should focus on organizers’ ability to hold a safe, fun, family event over the past 19 years and what is being done to ensure another 19 years of prosperity.

    Sponsors of events like this also are part of the constituency. As of this posting, event sponsor Miller Beer has not yet pulled the drain plug on its support for Riversplash. But rest assured, if steps are not taken to reverse the perception of how this festival "devolved over the years into a drunken brawl," as some have described it, activist groups and other people with an axe to grind will come out against continued sponsorship.

    Mayor Tom Barrett and Ald. Bob Bauman said they will be taking a closer look at similar street festivals this year and, in particular, area bars.

    If you are an event organizer within a splash of vermouth of Milwaukee, you, too, will be wise to recheck your policies and procedures, as well as your crisis plan.


    Karl Robe, APR, leads the public relations practice at Avicom Marketing Communications, which has offices in Waukesha and Milwaukee, Wis., and Montville, N.J.

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