Friday 26 May 2017

Ending appeasement

Blackland's produced the best summary of the demise of the Wellington 7s that I've yet seen. Bottom line: the only outcome that would appease the critics was the death of the Sevens, so attempting appeasement was not a great strategy.

From their summary:
The organisers acquiesced to, and collaborated with, the “moral panic” (an imbalanced, hyper-sensitive reaction to non-extraordinary normal events) among the City establishment, including the Council and Police.

It was driven by non-attendees who disliked the behaviour, and campaigning media, but gathered strength when it was allied with anti-alcohol and social disorder sentiments. This gave moral imperative and opportunity which meant establishment and elite figures felt obliged to agree that “something must be done” to change the behaviour.

The changes made by the Sevens organisers and the City establishment directly affected the “party” atmosphere. This experience also relied on large crowds – the joint and mutually reinforcing experience. When attendance began to decline in response to the changes, it quickly gathered pace. Each fall affected the experience, which deterred future attendance.

The lesson is that acquiescence to value signalling of noisy people on contentious subjects can disadvantage those most important to your organisation or event; customers, staff or shareholders.

It is instructive that the Police finally praised crowd behaviour and declared themselves satisfied over the 2017 event, when effectively no one turned up and was a fiscal disaster.

The Police and the City establishment had killed a “golden goose” event enjoyed by tens of thousands of everyday New Zealanders, and the Sevens organisers collaborated.  
They conclude:
Conceding that there was a behaviour and alcohol problem tacitly accepted the need for curbs on these factors. That meant conspiring with the moral panic to suppress factors key to the event’s success. When they did, the event lost popularity.

Because the event was an alcohol-imbibing outrageous party, these factors would be a feature. If you remove these features, you remove the Party. You remove the party, you remove the event.

A common response recommended by public relations “experts” is to concede some ground – accept criticism and modify.

This was the first route tried by the organisers. It didn’t work. It accepted that alcohol consumption and behaviour was out of the ordinary and therefore a problem.

This emboldened and legitimised critics. Without the organisers’ backing, no one was standing up for the event’s punters.

Without any defence of the relatively innocuous and common standard of drinking and behaviour, the complaints were not challenged and moderated.

The next route was total collaboration with critics. The organisers introduced rules and components to the event pandered to the idea that it was possible to create a new product and attract new customers.

The critics had no skin in the event. The success or failure of the event would not be their responsibility, and would have no direct impact on them. Their objectives were different. They were motivated by factors such as changing alcohol consumption or attitudes, undermining rugby, signalling virtue to peers, or gaining political advantage or media airtime.
Read the whole thing, as well as their excellent recommendations that follow on from the conclusion.

HT: Stephen Franks.


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