Visit Milwaukee honors 'Fonzie'

At one time, TV Land created bronze statues of iconic characters in their home cities for fun photo opportunities for tourists.

At one time, TV Land created bronze statues of iconic characters in their home cities for fun photo opportunities for tourists.

Although the network discontinued the program, Visit Milwaukee found a way to bring TV nostalgia to Wisconsin by working with local civic organizations to raise money for a statue of Arthur Fonzarelli, known to Happy Days viewers as "The Fonz."

Since Fonzie is such an iconic and identifiable character, the group decided to tap into not just local media, but also national and international, as well as involve various Milwaukee businesses.

Visit Milwaukee had two goals: raise $85,000, including $10,000 for marketing and to fly the cast members in for the unveiling, and create nostalgia-based buzz by targeting regional, national, and international media outlets that cover pop culture, says David Fantle, VP or PR for Visit Milwaukee.

The group planned a media event around the statue and launched a Web site (, which includes information about the project, a biography of Henry Winkler (who played Fonzie), press releases, photos, and links to news coverage.

The staff also worked with its sponsors for the event.

Visit Milwaukee initially targeted regional media, including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and a local Associated Press bureau, to publicize the story. Pitching national outlets, the organization conducted interviews with hundreds of radio and TV stations, including MSNBC, and thousands of print outlets, blogs, and Web sites.

The group also capitalized on Winkler's January 25 appearance in Milwaukee. While there, he delivered a keynote address to 2,000 educators of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards Convention, and attended a press conference announcing that the group had reached its funding goal. This resulted in additional coverage from outlets seeking a fresh angle on the story.

News of the Fonz statue spread throughout the nation and even into foreign countries, as the snowballing media attention was picked up by TV stations and Web sites overseas. The organization surpassed its fundraising goals, hoping to raise an additional $10,000 for a literacy program.

"I think it's exceeded our expectations, especially when you look at the media... buzz, and the excitement from the cast about participating in the event in August," Fantle says. "From TVLand, [the donation] far exceeded what I expected. I've been floored by the amount of attention this has received from all around the world.When we're through with this push, it may be even bigger."

Fantle is optimistic about the statue's August dedication. Local CBS affiliate WDJT-TV is planning to install a Webcam near the icon.

With the skyline in the background, the station will broadcast an evolving picture postcard of the city on the Internet, Fantle says.

PRWeek View
Memories of The Fonz are more likely to conjure up thoughts of leather jackets and awkward high-school moments than Milwaukee. Yet, Visit Milwaukee was able to pitch the character as a possible tourist attraction.

The organization, mindful that the media is always looking for light, pop-culture focused stories to balance hard news, effectively pitched media outlets with story ideas on the statue, and attached the positive news of Winkler's charity work and appearances.

PR team: Visit Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI)

Campaign: Bronze the Fonz

Duration: September 2007-ongoing

Budget: $10,000

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