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
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."