This has been a very sad weekend in Indianapolis. By now you’ve heard about the tragic accident at the Indiana State Fair Saturday night. Five people are dead and several others are injured. Because of my job in communications, I can’t help but evaluate the State Fair’s response to the events through the public relations prism. Thus far, they have handled the flow of communication very well. Indiana State Fair director Cindy Noye and spokesman Andy Klotz have been available, transparent and forthcoming with information as they receive it. They even took the difficult (but correct) measure and closed the State Fair on Sunday. Smart move. The fair reopens Monday morning with a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the accident.
Their responses have been coordinated with first responders and other local authorities, including Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. It’s a tough job, but they’ve managed it admirably. What happens next could change public perception on a dime.
The Show Must Go On.
The State Fair is scheduled to continue for another week and organizers have made the decision to continue as planned. It’s a difficult, difficult decision, but the correct one. Organizer wisely cancelled the closing fireworks, but it’s a good move to let the fair go on.
The Concert Schedule, However…
With several more big-name performers lined up for the remainder of the State Fair, the million dollar question has been: will they be cancelled? My advice: no. But CHANGE THE VENUE!
It would be morbid and offensive to try and hold these concerts on the site where people were killed just a few days ago. If the Pepsi Coliseum can’t be converted into a concert venue fast enough, find somewhere else in the city. Even an unused parking lot would be acceptable. Besides, I’m sure the State Police and other investigators might still be poring over the scene.
Concerts will be held at the grandstand again, but let’s wait until next year for that. Until then, let’s hold this year’s concerts elsewhere. (It’s worth noting Fair organizers may already be planning such measures).
State Fair organizers have wisely ordered another inspection of all the rides and attractions. Chances are pretty strong they’re fine, but this is a smart move to tamp down any concerns over public safety.
After the Fair.
Once this year’s fair is in the books, order a complete and full review of everything. From safety to vendors to facilities, etc. Everything. I’m sure they already do this, but make sure everyone knows you’re doing it. The big difference is don’t just announce the review; announce the recommended changes.
If I’m planning next year’s State Fair, it will begin with an official dedication ceremony to a plaque or some such landmark honoring the victims of this year’s tragedy. It would be fitting and respectful to those who died or were injured. The grandstand would be used for concerts again, but I’d get stories in the media about the new measures implemented to ensure public safety.
These are just my thoughts. I’m sure Andy Klotz and Cindy Noye & Co. are already taking everything under consideration. As a PR hack, I thought I’d throw my two cents out there.