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#PR Rant: How to Create 'Bad' PR and Ruin Your Event
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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This past weekend (October 17 to 19) was the occasion of the enactment of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek near Middletown, Virginia. As Civil War living historians and re-enactors, my wife and I originally were supposed to participate as living historians in the event. We registered as such and even made early hotel reservations nearby so my wife, who has some mobility issues, could have a comfortable place to sleep. So, up until about mid-September, we were looking forward to going and having a lot of interaction with the public.
That all changed with an email in mid-September from the “coordinator” of the living history section of the event. The email informed all the living historians who had registered information about location, fire pits, etc., etc. Some of the contents in the email were a total shock. Not only was the living history area far away from where the participating public would be, it also did not make sense to the living historians why it was being placed at a spot where most of the public would not bother to walk to.
It quickly got worse. Emails to the “coordinator” for the living historians (from myself and others) expressing concerns about parking for those with mobility issues, access to the specific event site for those with mobility issues, and similar concerns went unanswered and unheeded. Copies of all emails from the living historians expressing such concerns also went to the president of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation board.
Would it surprise you for me to say that not a single one of our concerns about handicap issues were answered in a responsible, welcoming, caring way? This total lack of concern for, or appreciation of, or simple courtesy in response to concerns, led one living historian (who, by the way, had attended and participated every year for seventeen years) to cancel. And he was not alone.
After it became obvious that the concerns and questions from the living historians were being ignored, my wife and I decided to cancel the original hotel reservation. We took the lemon of the Cedar Creek situation and made lemonade by opting to go instead to the Hagerstown, Maryland area for the same weekend. Our alternate plan was to spend some time at one of the Civil War battlefields within a half hour or so drive from Hagerstown. Needless to say, my wife and I had a great and wonderful weekend… which we might not have had had we gone to Cedar Creek as planned.
Early this week, some of the living historians who did go and did participate shared their thoughts and impressions. There was an email from a participant who told of not only being treated in a very hostile, unwelcoming, and unfriendly manner by event staff, but that — when his daughter had a medical emergency and he tried to bring his vehicle to camp so she could be taken to proper medical care — that his vehicle was not allowed. This occurred while vehicles needed to tow reproduction artillery pieces could come and go as needed without any hindrances! Needless to say, the living historian who shared the disrespect received by him and his family said he would never support the Cedar Creek event again.
Another living historian was treated in an equally unfriendly and uncourteous manner. He asked the “coordinator” of something he had overheard and wanted confirmed. As the gentleman said, “I heard that the CCBF thoughts are that if you are handicapped, that you shouldn't be out here.”  He was told, by the coordinator for the living historians, “yes.” His response was that he was “a service-connected disabled American Veteran and I will do damage by contacting organizations such as VFW, AMVETS, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and Marine Corps League and share this with them.” Further to that, the “coordinator” proceeded to tell him: “It is everyone against CCBF foundation and the foundation is against no one.” Unbelievable! Also, it is unbelievably arrogant — IMHO — to think that someone could be treated this way and then told that the CCBF “doesn't need [his] money, if anyone stops going, other people will go anyway.”
I am sure my fellow Civil War living historian, who has an equal passion to educate people about the Civil War and what was required to survive during that period, was dumbfounded on hearing this.
Let me ask my fellow flacks: Is this any way to run an event? Is this any way to generate good word-of-mouth PR, so your event will continue? angry Never mind that this was an event to commemorate a battle of the American Civil War. The question remains, Is this any way to run or manage an event, when people are left feeling hostile and determined to not only not participate again, but also to bad-mouth it? no
Personally, I am appalled. Further, I think this is an excellent example of how to create bad PR and ruin your event… whether it be a professional or a volunteer one. blush
(Gerry and his wife belong to the Civil War Heritage Foundation, where Gerry portrays John Walter Fairfax, an officer on the staff of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, and his wife portrays Fairfax’s wife. Gerry also is a re-enactor with Company C, Forty-fourth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry.)

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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