INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs PR - Olympic pitch getsGames for Beijing

Client: Beijing Olympic Bid Committee

PR Team: Weber Shandwick Worldwide (New York), Bell Pottinger (London)

Campaign: Bringing the Olympics to Beijing

Time Frame: January - July 2001

Budget: $1 million - $2 million

Last summer, Beijing was picked for the final list of five cities to

compete for the right to host the 2008 Olympics.

Although China's impending entry into the World Trade Organization and

position of growing importance for Western businesses means it is taking

a greater role in world politics, tricky human rights issues caused the

bid problems. In fact, this played a major part in Beijing losing the

2000 Olympics to Sydney.

Securing the Games meant influencing the 124 International Olympic

Committee (IOC) members from around the world, a process aided by

maneuvering public opinion in regions most troubled by China's human

rights record. The Beijing bid committee retained the services of Weber

Shandwick Worldwide in January, six months before the IOC was due to

pick the winning city.


To get the Games, Beijing had to prove it had the infrastructure,

sophisticated enough technology to meet media requirements, the support

of its people, the commitment of the city's government to construct the

necessary facilities, and a message, of course, that addressed the human

rights issue.

It was decided that, where possible, the primary message to be

communicated would concern all the changes Beijing had made in order to

attract the Olympics. "There was a great story to tell about all the

amazing strides that have been made in the city," says Mike Holtzman,

SVP of public affairs at WSW New York, who managed the job in the US,

Latin America, Africa, and Asia. "Many people don't understand the real

Beijing because the political issues weigh so heavily in the media."

Of course, the team couldn't avoid politics completely, particularly

with the Wen Ho Lee case, the spy plane incident, ongoing opposition

from Falun Gong, and numerous reports of political imprisonments

occurring during the life of the campaign. WSW took the line that the

public scrutiny that hosting the Olympics would bring would serve to

improve China's human rights record.

The third message point played on the fact that the Olympic charter is

designed to "bring the benefits of sport to the world." As the most

populous nation, surely it was about time that China's citizens got to

play in the biggest game of all.


Concentrating on the two regions where most opposition to the bid was

detected, the campaign was run jointly by WSW in New York and Bell

Pottinger in London.

The campaign was media-relations driven, using endorsements from

relevant leading figures in sports and politics to attest to all the

positive changes in Beijing as a result of the bid. The biggest break on

this front was the Dalai Lama's statement in May that he approved of the

Games going to Beijing "if they accelerate societal change."

It was also crucial to gain the backing of Olympic athletes in appealing

to the IOC. Supporters were found in former gymnast Olga Korbut, cyclist

Lance Armstrong, and sprinter Cathy Freeman, who lit the flame to kick

off the Sydney Olympics.

The agency also enlisted the support of the Humane Society and the

US/China Environmental Fund to confirm that Beijing had pledged billions

of dollars to an environmental clean-up, showing the bid as the catalyst

for that change.

These initiatives fed WSW's huge media relations effort, which also

included letters to newspapers, op-eds, and an e-mail campaign to 750

members of the media and other opinion formers.

In the seven days leading up to the IOC's decision in Moscow, a WSW team

of three hosted two press conferences for 1,400 media, and coached the

client on its final presentations to the IOC. "I couldn't tell them what

to do - I just helped magnify their message," recalls Holtzman.


Beijing secured the Games. Holtzman estimates media impressions in the



Holtzman is about to visit Beijing to negotiate a new contract with the

Chinese Olympic Organizing Committee. "The focus will change to

attracting investment in the Games and heading off any boycotts," says

Holtzman. "There is still plenty of need for PR."

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