Thinkpiece: Don’t dismiss PR potential at expos; they may seem old fashioned, but there’s plenty to gain

Despite little coverage of Expo 2000, this year’s World’s Fair in Hanover, Germany, there were long lines at the event’s Bertelsmann exhibit and Italian Pavilion. Perhaps the brief, sporadic accounts tended to focus on activist group protests or the lower-than-expected attendance because world’s fairs are considered anachronisms in a cyber, ’post place’ society.

Despite little coverage of Expo 2000, this year’s World’s Fair in Hanover, Germany, there were long lines at the event’s Bertelsmann exhibit and Italian Pavilion. Perhaps the brief, sporadic accounts tended to focus on activist group protests or the lower-than-expected attendance because world’s fairs are considered anachronisms in a cyber, ’post place’ society.

Despite little coverage of Expo 2000, this year’s World’s Fair in

Hanover, Germany, there were long lines at the event’s Bertelsmann

exhibit and Italian Pavilion. Perhaps the brief, sporadic accounts

tended to focus on activist group protests or the lower-than-expected

attendance because world’s fairs are considered anachronisms in a cyber,

’post place’ society.



But the events still hold enormous PR potential. Expos are pure PR.

Their provocative forms and situations provide stakeholders with

intensive, personal impressions. If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, a

carefully planned physical encounter is worth at least 10,000.



Nations, corporations and organizations from the World Bank to the

International Red Cross highlighted their goals and wares to hundreds of

thousands of potential clients, or those who influence potential

clients. Stunning Icelandic and Japanese Pavilions likely made positive

impressions. The US was conspicuous in its absence.



World’s fairs have rarely been financially lucrative; St. Louis 1904 and

Spokane 1974 are notable exceptions. Also, there are potential PR

pitfalls, as the financial failures of Knoxville 1982 and New Orleans

1984 showed. But nations and cities seeking to draw new attention and

investment should remember that such events draw huge numbers to great

urban centers and expose them to the diversities of each other and the

world.



Organizations seeking new PR tactics should remember that great expos

educate in provocative, popular ways. For example, Hanover continued the

tradition of accentuating the positive aspects of speedy, often

unsettling, societal change. Overt themes were the benefits of European

Union and German reunification, as well as global dialogue about

environmentally friendly technologies. Underlying themes include

consumer rights, diversity, new products and ethnic pride - ideas ripe

for new interpretation.



Expo 2000 did so by blending education into hi-tech pavilions.



Such events also envision routine infrastructure as lucrative

attractions.



For example, permanent structures built for the 1962 Century 21 Expo in

Seattle and HemisFair 68 in San Antonio and Spokane were catalysts for

those cities’ long-term urban renewal.



Multinational corporations, governments and cities can communicate in

stunning, resonate ways via the strategic communication medium of

expos.



Even in a cyber-society, such PR will never go out of style.





- Scott Berman teaches PR and media criticism in the Department of

Journalism at California State University, Northridge.



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