Private organizer steps up to helm annual tradition

The Crawfish Festival will live on — under new management.

The city of Tualatin named Social Media Northwest as the 63-year-old festival’s new organizer, introducing what Community Services Director Paul Hennon described as a new format “that continues some past traditions while infusing the festival with a new vision and concepts we believe will grow the festival and increase quality and attendance.”

The Beaverton-based public relations and event promotion company was known as Events Northwest until a 2012 rebranding. Owner Mike Higgins is a Sherwood native who has lent his public relations and marketing expertise to high-volume local events like the Oregon Brewers Festival, as well as the U.S. Olympics Track and Field Trials in Eugene.

Social Media Northwest’s pitch to run the festival came at a higher price point than the one submitted by Class Act Event Coordinators, Inc., the other interested party to draft a proposal for the Crawfish Festival. But Social Media Northwest’s vision gives the event an overhaul, and introduces elements of larger, Portland-based festivals: Food Cart Friday will represent the region’s thriving mobile cuisine culture, while the two-day Oregon Corks and Kegs event will bring microbrews and local wines to Tualatin.

The festival will come about a week earlier this year, removing it from direct competition with the Bite of Oregon. But under Social Media Northwest’s direction, at least one item on the new itinerary is mindful of Portland’s popular foodie festival: Taste of Tualatin, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, will be held in Community Park and will feature area food vendors whose menus must consist of a menu item reasonably described as Cajun or New Orleans-influenced; a signature dish; a “locally harvested” selection; and a dessert.

Still, many festival traditions remain intact, including The Crawfish Crawl Fun Run, pancake breakfast, Atsa My Dog! show, kids area and Youth Advisory Council-organized events for teens. And of course, the festival will continue its touchstone crawfish-eating contest.

One major omission will be the festival’s parade, which Hennon said was scrapped due to waning attendance and participation. This will allow an expanded Sunday line-up, which is expected to draw larger crowds and greater revenue.

Social Media Northwest’s proposal also outlined a giveaway for a trip to New Orleans, as well as live entertainment with a definite “Cajun or bayou flair,” to benefit charitable nonprofit organizations in Tualatin.

Class Act has provided organizational support to the festival for the past seven years and outlined a vision for the festival that made few adjustments to the traditional line-up. The company asked the city for the standard $28,000 worth of in-kind donations, which included law enforcement support, marketing and use of recreational facilities, as well as the $5,000 in cash contributions the city budgeted last year.

Social Media Northwest requested a $40,000 contribution from the city over a five-year period. The city announced a tentative agreement last week to pay the amount as an increasing sum in the next five years, and agreed to a yearly commitment of $10,000 for Saturday night entertainment, a continuation of the city’s funding for this year’s fireworks display to mark Tualatin’s Centennial year. The city will also provide an additional $1,900 of in-kind support to cover increased staffing needs at the festival.

Social Media Northwest will take over for the Chamber of Commerce, which ran the festival for 25 years before announcing last July that 2013 would be its last year. According to the chamber’s estimates, the festival requires about 1,100 hours to plan each year, with annual expenses reaching about $79,000.

According to fellow event entrepreneur Dave Nicoli, who took over the annual Tigard Festival of Balloons, organizing a festival of this magnitude is best approached as a labor of love more than a speculative money-maker. Nicoli said he continues to run Tigard’s popular event at a loss, but took it on out of loyalty to his hometown.

Likewise, Higgins says attending the Crawfish Festival has been a tradition in his family for more than 40 years.

The city hopes its five-year agreement with Social Media Northwest will allow the company to establish the festival and its finances, and ultimately phase out the need for the city’s financial support.

Contract Publishing

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