Client: The Gere Foundation, part of Gere Productions (New York)
Client: The Gere Foundation, part of Gere Productions (New
PR Team: Fenton Communications for TV, press and magazines and Richard
Strauss Strategies for radio (New York)
Campaign:The Dalai Lama’s Central Park event
Time Frame: Eight months leading up to August 15, 1999
Budget: Pro bono (estimated value: dollars 75,000)
One of the spin-offs of Richard Gere’s friendship with Tibet’s spiritual
leader has been that the actor’s production company acts as a form of
agent for the Dalai Lama in the US.
Although the Dalai Lama had been to New York 12 times before, his August
trip was the first time he agreed to host an event of such magnitude as
his talk in New York’s Central Park. It was decided that he would give
the free talk to the public in the East Meadow of the park on Sunday,
August 15, after three days of teaching at the Beacon Theater to
Buddhists who paid dollars 100 each day.
Although the Central Park event was going to be free, the challenge was
to make sure that enough New Yorkers would be in the city to attend, on
an August weekend when many would have usually gone out of town. It was
estimated that the meadow could hold around 30,000 people, a figure they
used as a target.
’We had to make sure people knew well enough in advance about the event
so that they could plan their weekends around it,’ says Fenton
Communications’ Josh Baran, a former Zen Buddhist monk who handled the
work for Gere Productions.
The advance work was hampered by the Dalai Lama’s aversion to speaking
on the telephone, which meant that Fenton couldn’t arrange any
interviews with him before his arrival in New York. However, Richard
Gere was available for interviews - although he was eager not to have
his presence overshadow that of the Dalai Lama.
Baran started with the most obvious audience - New York’s Buddhist
Richard Gere gave interviews to the two Buddhist magazines - Tricycle
and Shamdhala Sun - and articles also appeared in the giveaway spiritual
publications Free Spirit and Creations.
In May, Baran succeeded in encouraging The New York Times to run a
feature on how Tibetans in New York were preparing for the arrival of
The piece appeared on the front page of the Metro section and was the
first mainstream press mention of the event. The Times went on to run
two further pieces on the Dalai Lama - a news story on his arrival and a
profile by the paper’s religious editor on the day before his talk.
Getting the Dalai Lama on the front cover of Time Out New York during
July was a major coup, says Fenton, and having the front cover up all
over New York to promote the magazine also raised the profile of the
In addition, Richard Gere talked about the visit during his TV
appearances in July to promote his new film, Runaway Bride, and numerous
mentions were made on radio stations throughout the city in the week
preceding the event.
A press conference followed the arrival of the Dalai Lama to New York on
the Wednesday before the Central Park event.
There are two good measures of the success of the advance media
relations campaign. First, the press conference attracted 250
journalists and photographers from all over the world - a significant
uplift in interest since the Dalai Lama’s last public appearance in New
York in 1991, when 40 journalists turned up. And 300 members of the
press came to the Central Park event, prompting ex-White House publicist
Rob Vinson (who had worked with Fenton on the campaign) to remark that
’this is bigger than Gore’s announcement of his candidacy for
Second, nearly 50,000 people came to the East Meadow to hear the Dalai
Lama talk, well above estimates.
The Dalai Lama is due at events in Los Angeles in October and
Washington, DC, next July. Baran believes that the national awareness
built up around the New York event will act a boost to these visits.