Only months after a tsunami devastated portions of its coastline and brought the nation to the world's attention, Thailand had another important mission: Help ensure the vibrancy of its export economy by connecting with buyers in the US.
The Thailand Exhibition, a large trade show of Thai-made products held in LA, was an opportunity to drum up business on the West Coast and update the image of the country's products in the US market. The country's Department of Export Promotion (DEP) turned to Hill & Knowlton, which it had worked with a decade earlier, to conceptualize the show's image and promote it to the buying public.
"We tried to help them work on developing a more contemporary look and messaging," says Erica Amestoy, SVP and head of H&K's Irvine office. "They wanted to showcase some of their products that were reaching the global market that were not necessarily the traditional Thai products. They really had a very comprehensive offering."
Songseen Susevi, director of the Thai Trade Center in LA, said the aim was "to introduce Thai export products to American buyers and consumers."
The agency set out to build a relentlessly modern aura with its work. It came up with a tagline for the exhibition, "Buy Fly Visit Thai 2005," a group of words meant to evoke a fresh feeling about the country.
All of the logos and visual elements that H&K designed were carried on all of the campaign's marketing materials in order to maintain a consistent message about the event.
H&K focused its promotional tactics specifically on the buyer's community and let consumers who attended serve as icing on the cake. The firm designed marketing materials that were sent to buyers and helped the DEP design its website so that it was consistent with the rest of the exhibition's theme.
Media materials also fit in with the overall look.
"It was really trying to get that visual look and feel across through the website, the brochure, and the invitation that we sent out," Amestoy says.
To draw civic interest toward the event, H&K worked with the staff of then-LA mayor James Hahn. In doing so, it managed to have the week of the event declared Thai Business Week in the city and have a city council member attend the opening ceremony.
"That really meant quite a bit to the government of Thailand," says Amestoy. "They see this very much as a partnership ... working with cities throughout the country."
The agency fielded a street team with promotional materials to pass out throughout the city. It also targeted Thai media outlets to cover the bulk of the activities surrounding the exhibition.
Buyers - the main target for H&K and the DEP - turned out in force. The agency registered 3,500 wholesale buyers for the event, and 1,500 attended. They represent more than $5 million in orders from the 190 vendors at the show, and $30 million over the coming year, according to the agency. Additionally, 9,500 members of the public attended the show.
The push for coverage in the Thai media was successful, with more than 15 Thai and Asian outlets attending every single exhibition-related event.
Susevi says that at the 2004 exhibition in Houston, "there were very few visitors," but that the 11,000 that H&K rounded up in LA impressed him.
Both sides say that the exhibition went well. Although there is no ongoing contract, Amestoy says, "We hope to work with them again if they do another show in LA." Susevi says that it might happen.
PR team: Thailand Department of Export Promotion and Hill & Knowlton (Irvine, CA)
Campaign: The Thailand Exhibition 2005
Time frame: March to June 2005