Sprinklers, sparklers and social media, oh my!

sprinklerThe only universal truth I know about humans is they are unpredictable.

You may think they’ll respond or act one way – and then they have the complete opposite reaction. At least, that’s what happened to me this past Independence Day.

I’m not a huge fan of fireworks. I can see many displays of the southern suburbs from the comfort of my apartment so don’t have to venture into the crowds. Instead, I can enjoy them at a distance while watching my guilty pleasure, Madame Secretary, which seemed like a patriotic evening to me, right?

As I was lying there in the cool air conditioning, I received a text at 10:30 p.m. from Brian Donovan, the city manager of East Grand Rapids. There was a slight issue and could I give him a call? Here we go, I thought.

When I called Brian he told me that the sprinklers in the track field at the High School had gone off – giving firework spectators an unexpected shower.


So we divided and conquered. He reached out to the grounds maintenance crew to get the sprinklers turned off while I crafted an apology. I put the post out on the City’s Facebook page and braced myself for some less-than-happy revelers.

As the comments started pouring in, I got ready to be greeted with frustration, anger and complaints of incompetence. What followed, instead, was a deluge of funny quips and water-related puns. As of this morning, this simple apology has now garnered a reach of more than 8,000 people (more than triple our following), 30 shares, 24 comments and 169 reactions – all positive!

My favorite comment came from Omar, who said “As hot as it was, we could have just put up an 'aid station’ sign and called it good!”

There also have been calls to make the sprinklers an annual tradition.

This situation was such a great reminder to me that we do have a sense of humor as a society and can truly overlook small issues and find the fun in them. I can tell you, it sometimes seems like this will never be the case again.

So what is the lesson here?

I think it underscores the importance of getting ahead of issues. While this is relatively minor, it is a prime example of how important an immediate response in a “crisis” is. By providing this timely apology, we were able to acknowledge the event had happened and we had it under control before the rumor mill could even rev up.

At Sabo PR, we believe a response has to be authentic and acknowledge the situation happened, which is exactly what we did here. This is where so many organizations go wrong. When you point fingers in the other direction or stay radio silent, you let other control the narrative.

I’m still surprised by how this turned into a great community joke – and have been laughing along with the posters.

Our friends at WZZM even got in the fun, after someone tagged chief meteorologist George Lessens, who declared “unexpected shower!”

One of the commenters shared how this was something straight out of a movie, which it truly was. I hope if Adam Hertz ever makes another American Pie, which are based on his time growing up in East, he incorporates this moment into it.

I hope everyone had a safe – and sprinkler-free – Independence Day!

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