The main liaison for foreign media at BOCOG, Ruffolo says he had meetings over the course of more than a year in China with various officials before he was able to win a job with the BOCOG press department. Why was he so determined? "You have this thing inside you that changes when you have some deep involvement with the Games, and I didn't want to miss this," he explains. Ted McKenna spoke to him about his experience preparing for the upcoming Olympics.
PRWeek: How did you get interested in doing Olympic PR?
Jeff Ruffolo: I've been in PR for 30 years... and I'm also a three-time Olympic sportscaster. In Athens 2004, Westwood One made it very clear that they would not have me back, so I had to make a decision: What am I going to do next? Every time you do an Olympics, you have to make sure you're positioned for the next.
PRWeek: What's it like being the only foreigner in the media center?
Ruffolo: Imagine 60 people in a room who speak English, but not really that well. And they don't know you. You're an American. So what I did was I schmoozed - I'm a good PR man. I made it my effort to be everyone's friend. I edited everything in English I could get my hands on - magazines, speeches for the Communist party. I went up and down in the elevator, asking people what I could do to help make their English better.
PRWeek: How do you work with foreign media?
Ruffolo: You want to look at a venue? You want a phone number? I'll give you the phone number. I'll show you the venue. Want to know where the grass came from? I can tell you that it came from blah blah blah, and I know this because I edit all the [official] Olympic publications. I tried here at the media center... to explain that they have [thousands of] writers coming; it's like a tsunami, and that many of these journalists don't know about the country. All they know about it [is] generally negative.
PRWeek: What do media most frequently request of you?
Ruffolo: I get about 30 to 40 calls a day. Most want to talk [about] the hurdlers or Yao Ming. Often, unfortunately, what you must say is no, 'You can't get that, but I can get you an alternative.'
To deal with all the practical issues of being a journalist, we've put more than 13 municipal departments in three rooms, so journalists can sort through issuance, moving their equipment, getting radio frequencies. We have over 400 embedded media [in Beijing] and they're coming by the dozens more every week.
PRWeek: How free have they been to report on issues?
Ruffolo: The Olympics is about communications. We had a reporter from [the] Baltimore Sun and I took him to some venues and then I left him alone, so he could report on whatever he wanted. With the Olympics here, you [will] have TV crews at every corner interviewing anything that moves. The policy is you just have to ask [people's] permission. The police won't stop you. A lot of what's being said about China is being written by people 8,000 miles away in a cubicle.
PRWeek: What about the pro-tests related to Tibet?
Ruffolo: I'll defer comments to what's been said by officials, be-cause my role is very different. My job is to assist [the media department]. But I think it's the foreigners who are missing the picture. The Olympics transcends us as a people. I can tell you when [the Olympic flame] comes down [here], grown men will cry. It will change this place for the better, forever. The change isn't just about China. In America, you see very few modern images about China. The images you see are about things that happened 30 or 40 years ago.
Name: Jeff Ruffolo
Title: Senior expert at BOCOG's Olympic media center