A creative attempt by the New Ulm Visitors Bureau to create a new legend of Hermann the German’s footprint was meant to drum up a little publicity.
Oh, boy did they.
Visitors Bureau Director Terry Sveine, working with a marketing firm, hired an artist to create a 4-foot-long concrete footprint. The story line they created was this: The footprint was just uncovered in a dusty box in the basement of the Chamber office with a cryptic note suggesting it could have come from Germany. Hermann is a German war hero of old whose towering statue overlooks the German city of New Ulm.
The story got some local play with the New Ulm paper and some German-American websites playing along with the gag, recounting Sveine’s story line, but with adequate tips for readers to know that the marketing ploy was just that.
I wrote about it a week ago, playing along with Sveine’s entertaining story, but with plenty of indications that the Hermann Footprint story was nothing more than a tourism stunt.
Or so I thought.
After 30 years of journalism, I know that any tongue-in-cheek feature story runs a risk. No matter how clear the between-the-lines hints may seem, some will read the story with the same expectations as they have when reading a factual, blow-by-blow city council story.
I didn’t expect one of those readers would be The Associated Press. An AP reporter picked up the story and called Sveine, who assumed the reporter wanted him to play a role and again recounted the fictitious story of finding the big footprint in the basement.
Later, the marketing firm and Sveine realized things may have been getting out of hand, as the AP was trying to verify whether Sveine’s story was really true.