CAMPAIGNS: Event Marketing - Dalai Lama goes mainstream

Client: The Gere Foundation, part of Gere Productions (New York)

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

their leader.

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.

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