Awards: Dalai Lama's prize a mark of true spirit

The Templeton Prize honours a living person who has made a significant contribution within the realms of spirituality, with previous recipients including Mother Teresa. The £1.1m prize is the world's largest annual monetary award given to an individual. This year's winner was the Dalai Lama.

Amzing Grace: The Dalai Lama on the Templeton prize panel
Amzing Grace: The Dalai Lama on the Templeton prize panel

Campaign: Templeton Prize 2012
Client: The John Templeton Foundation
Timescale: March-May 2012
PR team: Bell Pottinger Business & Brand
Budget: Less than £75,000


  • To raise awareness of the annual Templeton Prize by generating exposure in key media
  • To clarify the status of the Templeton Prize, demonstrating that it has no bias towards a particular religion, scientific or academic discipline
  • To deliver a high profile event and secure widespread media interest.


The PR team was responsible for organising the event. It secured St Paul's Cathedral as a venue, which gave a news hook - the first time the Dalai Lama would visit the world-famous religious site.

Interested communities around the Dalai Lama - such as British Buddhists - were identified and contacted. Although social media were a focus in this area, trade publications such as the Church Times were also contacted. The winner's identity was kept a secret at this point.

In late March, the Dalai Lama was announced as the winner of the prize through the prize's website, Twitter and emails to journalists.

On the Sunday before the award ceremony in May, The Sunday Telegraph was given an interview with the Dalai Lama. This was the first of four exclusives across print, online and broadcast, with Arianna Huffington flown over to conduct an interview for the Huffington Post.

On the day of the award ceremony, Sky News and BBC Radio 4 were given access and interviews, with coverage of the event fed live to 26 broadcasters from around the world. The Dalai Lama's response to being given the award was recorded ahead of time and posted on the John Templeton Foundation's YouTube channel.

To develop follow-up coverage, the PR team asked audience members why they had attended the award ceremony. This led to a meeting and blessing being arranged between the Dalai Lama and a woman with cancer, with The Sun covering the event.


More than 1,000 pieces of coverage were secured. This included the front page of The Times, BBC World News and CNN.

Previously seen as a fairly niche event, the award has since been mentioned alongside the Nobel Prize by the International Herald Tribune.


More than 2,000 people attended the ceremony, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, Joanna Lumley and newspaper proprietor Evgeny Lebedev. Key words such as #templetonprize were tweeted more than 1,300 times during a seven-day period around the award ceremony, with 4,000 viewing the foundation's YouTube footage on the day.


Charles Stewart-Smith, Director, Blue Rubicon

The luckiest scoop of my journalistic career followed an opportunistic interview with the Dalai Lama. It was only on the plane home I discovered he had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and I had the most recent interview.

Like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama is a natural media star, so it was never going to be difficult to secure coverage. But that is not to belittle the professional job done by Bell Pottinger. All bases were covered, St Paul's Cathedral was an inspired venue, the guest list enviable and the resulting coverage was to die for. The Templeton Prize was well name-checked.

The problem with such big names is they are such big names. The coverage was about the man himself, allowing little space to explain the rationale behind the prize. That was inevitable: not just because of the recipient's celebrity status, but also because the message was not clear.

In future, the explanation behind the Templeton Prize will need to be further clarified so the legacy of Sir John Templeton will be fully understood.

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