Yes, let’s go ahead with the marathon! Wait a minute – let’s not. Late on Friday, Mayor Bloomberg reversed his previous position to go ahead with Sunday’s NYC marathon, an event involving thousands of runners, after coming under tremendous pressure. By Friday, Sunday’s Marathon had been cancelled.
Why the turnaround? In the days following Hurricane Sandy’s devastation on the New York area, it was remarkable to hear the rhetoric from the Mayor – namely, that going on with the race would be a show of strength by New Yorkers. Could Mayor Bloomberg have been more misguided in thinking that holding the event anyway, despite a city torn in half by those who had power and those who did not, would be good for New York morale? What he completely missed was a more careful look at the details. The world could see what apparently only he and the event’s sponsors could not: This was not September 11.
As the severity of Sandy’s impact grew more apparent, focus sharpened on the redeployment of services to support the race. The New York City Marathon is not a simple run in the park. It includes the use of multiple generators, the very same generators that could now power darkened, cold neighborhoods. Police and Fire Department professionals could also be reassigned from controlling traffic to recovery work. This was one case where the show must NOT go on.
The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for the final decision to cancel the New York City Marathon.
The PR Takeaway: One size does not fit all. Mayor Bloomberg’s original decision to create a” life should go on” platform (as happened with September 11) was the wrong comparison to make. He might have been better guided by the mistake of Condoleezza Rice’s much-maligned visit to Manhattan immediately following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when she caught a Broadway show and bought a pair of Ferragamos. Then as now, the message was not carry on as normal but rather, stop what you are doing and get help fast to where it is most needed. And that doesn’t include running a marathon.