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Issue Management for a pre-wedding party

A three-day celebration for an Indian couple at the end of February turned St Moritz upside down completely. Eight hundred fifty guests from India and many other countries had made their way to St Moritz to celebrate for three days and get to know this Alpine town and its winter sports. The extraordinary event received media attention from around the globe – in the background, a well-coordinated communications initiative was taking place.

Das Brautpaar Akash Ambani (links) und Shloka Metha (rechts) mit St. Moritzer Schulkindern.

Despite being big, the three-day party was a private affair. Hence, the organisers hadn't initially planned to do any media work. To the contrary: all the contractors and subcontractors had been sworn to secrecy, and none of them was disclosing any information to the local media on the event and the guests that would attend. So, at first, the party was only taking place in the Indian media.

As the party drew nearer, though, local, national and even media from abroad were showing ever more interest in the event – with media pressure mounting day by day. What's more, some residents in the vicinity of one of the party locations were becoming increasingly aggravated as they felt they hadn't been adequately informed beforehand about the construction that was dwarfing the high-rise they lived in and blocking the view of the holiday flats. «At some point, public sentiment was on the brink of turning sour,» states Christian Jott Jenny, the town's mayor, in hindsight. «Something had to be done about it.»

Jenny reacted immediately: In a series of one-on-one talks, he begged for understanding and support. «It must have been a few dozen telephone calls – and some of them weren't easy,» Jenny continues. «But, if you want to win people over, if you truly want to convince them, you have to reach out, in person, show you understand and explain yourself.»

The organisers of the event, too, responded promptly and hired media professional Christian Gartmann, a St Moritz native, as the spokesperson and media relations appointee for the event. From then on, Gartmann coordinated all queries coming from the press on behalf of the organisers, the town as well as the local tourist industry; he also helped with the information activities for the neighbouring residents. Facts and background provided to editorial staff at a press briefing held with the managers of the hosting hotels and representatives of the town and its tourism body made the organisation feel tangible.

Global media footprint

The joint effort was effective: Both St Moritz residents and guests stood behind a celebration that initially had been the subject of much controversy. «Issue management is a team effort, » Christian Gartmann sums up. «The organiser, the town, the hotels and other tourist service providers jointly defined the key messages, and then worked hand in hand – that was the way to make it work.»

As the anticipation for the party rose, so did the spirits: As the 850 guests arrived, St Moritz was over the moon with excitement. «St Moritz has always been synonymous with extravaganza,» commented the elated CEO of Engadin St Moritz tourism, Gerhard Walter. «These pre-wedding celebrations well deserve a place in the list of extraordinary events. They delighted our international guests and left a footprint in social and traditional media that spanned the globe. The one and a half years of preparation paid off!»

After the celebration is over, the town will conduct a thorough debriefing with all parties involved. The town mayor Jenn puts it in a nutshell: «This bash was not an everyday occasion by a long way. It posed a big challenge to the town, the local service providers as well as the organiser. Now, we must learn our lessons for future events.»

Jenny is pleased with the joint issue management: «Having a media expert with a wealth of crisis management experience literally at hand was a stroke of luck. Everyone worked in unison, which was invaluable; moreover, locals are generally positively inclined towards events.» «But,» he adds, «it would have been better if we had never had an issue in the first place. We should have had a better dialogue ahead of the event.»

Peace and quiet returned to St Moritz after the Indian guests left – the Engadin shifting its focus to the Engadin Skimarathon, the traditional highlight in late winter. «The visitors of both events couldn't be any more different,» says Christian Gartmann with a smile; the man who also handles media relations for the Engadin Skimarathon. «But that's the Engadine for you: we're a place where opposites come together.»


Three days of joie de vivre for 850 guests

The guests who attended the social occasion thoroughly enjoyed St Moritz in the magnificent sunshine. A «Winter Wonderland», a phantasy world with a Ferris wheel, a carousel and an ice rink, had been erected next to the lake for their entertainment. Winter sports were showcased on the frozen Lake St Moritz, and guests could even have a go at some of them. Many guests also took the opportunity to hit the downhill slopes and cross-country skiing tracks or were spotted discovering the local sights.

«The guests spent an unforgettable day on the lake,» Lupo Wolf, owner of the local "All Activities Agency", told the "Engadiner Post". With the help of a group of locals, he demonstrated a series of winter sports activities, for which he had also brought some forty horses and sledge dogs. For many guests, it must have been their first experience with snow. They were thrilled.

«St Moritz was beyond a dream!»

Glittering parties were held on each of the three evenings. The drone ballet in the pitch-black night sky and an outstanding fireworks display enthused not only the guests but also the residents and tourists. The locals were particularly pleased with the special treat by the hosts: they were invited to enjoy the attractions of the "Winter Wonderland" for an evening. Two hundred fifty guests – many of them children – had fun on the rides, and enjoyed the food, the sweets, and the drinks offered.

At the "Ice Ball" that concluded the three-day celebrations, the international guests were treated to a concert of Chris Martin, frontman of the band "Coldplay", followed by a concert of the duo "The Chainsmokers". Chris Martin visibly enjoyed St Moritz too: Inspired by the festivities, he composed a song for the groom and bride, a song about the big bash in St Moritz that he performed on the piano for the couple and their guests.

Being regulars to St Moritz, the family wanted to show their friends the most beautiful Alpine valley in a three-day social event. The guests were visibly delighted: hundreds of social media posts brought pictures and videos of St Moritz to India and around the globe. «St Moritz was beyond a dream!» the groom Akash Ambani shouted out to his 850 guests on the pre-wedding party's last evening do.


Issue management

Issues are events or problems that impact or may impact a business or project and its objectives and could potentially turn into a crisis. The goal of issue management is to identify such issues early on and to respond with effective measures so as to quickly resolve the problem and avoid a crisis.