Yooper pride wins out

TickPick Co-founder and Co-CEO Brett Goldberg smiles while showing off some of the gifts given to him by patrons of Blackrocks Brewery on a Tuesday evening in June, when Goldberg made the trip there from New York City to buy beers for Yoopers. He was given a Stormy Kromer, a U.P. t-shirt, a Lawry’s Pasty, and an
“Honorary Yooper” sticker. In return, he purchased a total of 903 beers. (Photo courtesy of Amber Johnston/Bottom Line Marketing)

By Jackie Stark

By Jackie Stark

There’s little doubt that when Brett Goldberg woke up on June 20, he thought he was waking up to just another Tuesday at the office.

 Instead, he began his day at the company he co-founded, TickPick.com, with a social media firestorm that ultimately set him on a crash course from New York City to Blackrocks Brewery in Marquette, eating pasties, wearing a U.P. t-shirt and Stormy Kromer and buying more than 900 beers for thirsty Yoopers looking for a little redemption.

As most good stories do these days, the whole thing started with a Facebook post.

Marquette resident Kyla Vasseau noticed that TickPick—a secondary ticket sales website of which Goldberg is the co-CEO—had left the Upper Peninsula off its map. So, naturally, she pointed out the mistake.

What happened next set the wheels in motion for a wild week at TickPick headquarters.

A customer service representative decided to utilize a little snark, choosing to respond to Vasseau’s request by saying “We got the important part of Michigan, isn’t that good enough?”

She posted about the interaction on social media, where it quickly began making the rounds. In a second exchange with a second U.P. resident, who was extolling the virtues of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the customer service representative didn’t back down.

“We’re sure the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a lovely place to live, and I assure you we didn’t intentionally leave it off the map. But seriously, it’s just a bunch of forests…”

By then, angry Yoopers swooped in with their phones, tablets and computers, raining down negative reviews on TickPick’s Facebook page quick enough to bring it from a four-star company to a two-star one in no time at all.

But why this particular reaction? It’s not as though U.P. residents have never seen this before. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been left off of many a map, and has also, at times, been depicted to be part of Wisconsin.

And its people? Well, Yoopers are certainly used to being portrayed as backwoods hicks with little to no understanding of culture outside of the rituals of deer camp.

But maybe, just maybe, the combination of those two things, or at least the insinuation of the latter, is what pushed U.P. residents over the edge this time. That and the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and thus, easy access to the internet.

“We got the important part of Michigan, isn’t that good enough?”

Oh no they didn’t.

Amber Johnston pretends to take a bite of a Lawry’s pasty with Brett Goldberg, co-founder and co-CEO of TickPick.com. Goldberg made the trip to Marquette’s Blackrocks Brewery from New York City to buy beers for Yoopers as an apology for leaving the U.P. off a map on its website, and for his company’s initial response to that mistake being pointed out. (Photo courtesy of Amber Johnston/Bottom Line Marketing)

By the time TickPick co-founder and co-CEO Brett Goldberg made it into work on Tuesday morning, the damage had been done. In a matter of hours, the company’s rating on Facebook had plummeted and its reviews were filled with angry, disappointed Yoopers.

“We’re a younger start up, and we had a huge blunder here,” Goldberg said in an interview with MM days after the incident. “But it’s really going to help us create the right balance.”

He went on to say the post, and subsequent deluge of negative reviews, caused the company to create a set of guidelines that would prevent this type of response from a customer service representative from ever happening again.

 But before that could happen, Goldberg had to think of something he could do immediately to remedy the situation. He started out by writing an apology and posting it to TickPick’s Facebook page, offering a 10 percent discount to Yoopers.

Amber Johnston, a marketing executive who saw a customer service situation gone wrong, commented on Goldberg’s apology, telling him she’d change her one-star review to a five-star if he came to the U.P., ate a pasty and wore a Stormy Kromer.

It seemed to Goldberg to be a good idea. By 11 a.m., he had booked a flight to Escanaba, with a plan to spend the evening at Blackrocks Brewery in Marquette, meeting locals and buying beers to show his genuine hope to remedy a situation no one could ever have seen coming.

“I was a little bit on edge,” Goldberg said of when he first arrived at Blackrocks, “but it just, from the second I walked in, was so well received and not a single person had anything mean to say. There was only nice things. I think even people there were joking, ‘Now you’re famous.’”

 Johnston met Goldberg at Blackrocks, pasty and Stormy Kromer in hand.

“Michiganders and Yoopers are some of the most loyal and passionate people in the United States. We care deeply for our state and our community. We want it to stay a secret so we can keep it to ourselves, but we also want people to know it’s a place of beauty that’s to be respected,” Johnston said. “Once he showed they didn’t mean to disrespect the U.P. or Michigan at all, he was able to relate, see how amazing it is and how great the people are. People recognized that.”

Since Goldberg’s now infamous U.P. trip, he and Johnston collaborated to create the Yooper Blooper giveaway, which offered entry into a drawing for any one of five prizes for leaving a five-star review on the company’s Facebook page. (Prizes included a dozen pasties from Lawry’s, a three-day stay at the Harbor Haus, a kayak tour of Pictured Rocks with a two-night hotel stay, tickets to Forestville 2017, and a gift card to LoyalTees).

Even before the drawing, though, Yoopers began posting new five-star ratings on TickPick’s Facebook page, and changing their one-stars to higher ratings.

 Since returning to New York, Goldberg also worked with Blackrocks owners to pay it forward with a donation from TickPick and part of the spontaneous evening of beer-buying’s proceeds going to Superior Watershed Partnership, with a total of $2,500.

“We thought, ‘Let’s finish the full circle here and give some of these proceeds and us donate to a local organization,’” Goldberg said.

And for a man that just went through a veritable PR nightmare, followed by a veritable PR dream, Goldberg was quick to take responsibility for the former, and to point out how many other people were responsible for the latter—a character trait that wasn’t lost on the people who spent an evening at Blackrocks with a New York City CEO.

“Yoopers can smell (BS) from a mile away, and he’s a genuine, authentic guy,” Johnston said. “He really was. I don’t say that about just anybody.”

When people showed up at Blackrocks, they were in search of two things: free beer, and authenticity from a New Yorker hoping to change people’s minds about his company.

They got that, and a great story to go home with.

 As for Goldberg, he enjoyed his 24-hour whirlwind trip to a place that was “just a bunch of forests anyway.”

“I enjoyed my 24 hours there,” he said, “but I would really like to go back with my wife.”


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