Austin biker rally revs up crisis response after Waco shoot out

Republic of Texas Biker Rally fends off negative backlash surrounding Waco by grounding message in safety.

Client
Republic of Texas Biker Rally

Agency
RDS Strategies

Campaign
Republic of Texas Rally 2015

Republic of Texas Biker Rally teamed up with RDS Strategies to help promote the 20th anniversary of the rally which took place in Austin, Texas, from June 11 to 14. RDS joined Republic of Texas (ROT) Rally in April to execute general media relations and marketing. Thirty-five thousand bikers attend the festival at the Travis County Exposition Center, but more than 100,000 people come to Austin to watch the bikers roll through downtown and join in the festivities in and around the city. The rally largely benefits the Austin economy and also supports and honors U.S. military and veterans.

In the wake of the May 17 biker shoot out at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, just a month ahead of the rally and an hour and a half from Austin, RDS Strategies needed to jump into crisis response mode. Nine bikers were killed and more than 100 arrested in Waco. The incident threatened to put a significant negative spotlight on the Austin rally.

Each year, the ROT Rally works closely with law enforcement, but after the event at Waco the festival had to ensure more would be done this year. In addition to regular meetings to implement detailed safety, security, and traffic- and crowd-control plans, the two groups held press conferences with the Austin police department and weekly meetings with the Travis County Sheriff’s department.

"Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo was very direct in his stance that his department was not going to allow anything violent or unnecessary to happen within the city," Matt Ceniceros, founder for RDS Strategies, told PRWeek. Ceniceros made transparency a priority with residents and attendees. The team sent out bi-weekly newsletters as well as more than 70 social media posts to promote the safety of the event.

Eight thousand likes were received on the rally’s Facebook page within the first month and 2,500 of their Facebook posts were shared. On Twitter, the mention reach for #ROTRally2016 was 1.35 million and the re-tweet reach was 183,000.

The rally garnered more than 200 media mentions including the homepage of MSN.com and yahoo.com for multiple days, as well as the Washington Post and Business Insider.

"For us, the important aspect was to use those social channels and the newsletter to give confidence to people who had already bought tickets or who were considering coming, and for the family members of people who were coming," says Ceniceros.

They are not denying their losses, though. "This year was a breakeven year [and] we did suffer in attendance," says Jerry Bragg, president of ROT Rally, adding, "We dropped about 2,000 people from close to 35,000, but our cancellation rate was very low among sponsors and vendors. We only lost two sponsors and three or four vendors and they both assured us that once this blew over they would be in again next year." Sponsors for the event included Allstate and Budweiser.

By the close of the campaign, the ROT Rally did successfully gain a sense of trust from the city. Bragg adds, "Our mission was to change the perception of what biking is about. The community of bikers is not all gang members."

-Kathleen Treganowan

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