WASHINGTON: The dedication of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall on Saturday brought to a close eight years of public affairs, crisis management, and event planning efforts by Burson-Marsteller.
The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), an independent agency of the executive branch, first signed Burson to a three-year contract in 1996 to help raise funds and awareness for a proposed monument. Eight years, two designs, 30 rounds of hearings, and several lawsuits later, major work on the contract is now ended.
"More than 50 years after World War II, there now stands a national monument in Washington, DC, to remind us of the sacrifices made by a generation of Americans," wrote worldwide CEO Chris Komisarjevsky in a company-wide e-mail. "For the last eight years, Burson-Marsteller colleagues from multiple practices in the US have been supporting the ABMC in its plan to build" that memorial.
What was to be a relatively short-term project was repeatedly drawn out by opposition to the monument's design and its placement on the National Mall. That controversy ultimately accounted for much of the work that Burson performed on the account.
"We spent a lot of time balancing the misinformation that was put out by our adversaries," said Peter Himler, MD of media relations.
Lawsuits filed by a host of groups in 2001 tried to stop construction on several charges, including allegations of potential environmental damage and improper site selection. Eventually Congress passed a bill exempting construction from further lawsuits.
"We had to do a lot of work with key decision makers, grassroots outreach, and community outreach activities with veterans groups and rotary organizations. We did a lot of talking to members of Congress to help get support," said Libby Schnee, a director in the US public-affairs practice.
Saturday's event, coordinated by Burson and about 20 subcontractors, involved making accommodations for more than 200,000 guests (including President Bush, Bob Dole, and Tom Hanks), 800 members of US and foreign press, and a seven-camera closed-circuit relay broadcasting to arenas, VFW halls, and aircraft carriers around the world.
The event also included the postmaster general's unveiling of a new WWII commemorative stamp, and a morning tribute to veterans broadcast from the National Cathedral to 16 LED walls on the mall.