CAMPAIGNS: Event PR - Manchester Games open on right note

Client: Manchester 2002
PR Team: In-house and Capital PR
Campaign: Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony
Timescale: July
Budget: Undisclosed

As former Olympic host cities Sydney and Salt Lake City have proved in recent years, the opening and closing ceremonies for worldwide sporting events go beyond sport and entertainment to embrace global statements about local culture and confidence.

On 25 July, this was the opportunity facing Manchester 2002 (M2002) as it welcomed athletes, spectators and journalists from around the Commonwealth, and a global TV audience.

Following the success of the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1998, the aim of the opening ceremony was to set the scene for the festival of sport and culture to follow, and help provide the context around which the Games would be judged by the media.

After the recent fiascos over the Wembley and Pickett's Lock (London) projects, the Manchester Games were also an opportunity for the UK to demonstrate that it could produce a world-class ceremony, as well as host a world-class sports event.

Objectives

To get the Commonwealth Games off to a flying start and reflect key messages and aspects relating to the host city and the quality of the Games that would follow.

This included portraying Manchester's contemporary culture and its spirit of urban renewal and regeneration, showcasing key 'Made in Manchester' moments that would wow the world.

Strategy and Plan

The plan was to highlight aspects of the ceremony that best illustrated its central messages and themes, as determined by M2002 chairman Charles Allen and creative director Sue Woodward.

The ceremony was produced by event management specialist Jack Morton Worldwide, which recommended the staging of the event at night so a spectacular light-show could highlight Manchester's desired image as a 'city of the future'.

With the media in danger of being overwhelmed by the detail and scale of the event, in the final week of countdown to 25 July, M2002 and Capital PR devised a multi-layered media strategy to communicate the ceremony's outline, messages and segments.

On arrival at the main press centre, journalists received a ceremonies background press kit, and on the afternoon of the event, a special Opening Ceremony Media Guide was made available to all accredited media.

This was embargoed, but designed to help journalists, producers, production staff and photographers plan their coverage and avoid a last-minute rush on the night.

The PR team also made the unprecedented decision to show the media a video highlights reel of the final dress rehearsal for the ceremony, in order to give them a sense of the grand scale and majesty of the event.

An hour before the ceremony began, journalists received news of the involvement of Manchester United's England football captain David Beckham and local girl Kirsty Howard, who has a potentially fatal heart condition.

Measurement and Evaluation

The subsequent media coverage reflected a resounding success at all levels, locally, nationally and internationally, and among all media from TV and radio to newspapers and wire services.

Predictably, much of the media coverage focused on Beckham, who wore an eye-catching white tracksuit.

But key moments such as the arrival of the dignitaries in taxis, the spectacle of the Grenadier Guards' Nijmegen Company and the arrival of the Queen's Baton in the hands of an aerialist, were also well covered.

In addition, the central theme of 'Ordinary Mancunians doing extraordinary things', was well represented, with journalists highlighting the involvement of local school children and the cultural diversity of the dancers.

The event reached an international TV audience of approximately 500 million, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the relaxed night-club style of the Athletes Parade persuaded more people to tune in than switch off.

Results

The media struggled to find fault with the ceremony, although some were critical of the blatant Adidas branding on Beckham's tracksuit and the Queen's welcome for Kirsty Howard, which some perceived as being rather 'cold'.

The PR team has yet to formally measure international media coverage, but the ceremony scored Australia's Channel 7 its largest TV audience so far this year - with the exception of the football World Cup final between Germany and Brazil - and won the BBC an audience of nine million in the UK.

Most encouraging for Manchester and the UK, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge was also impressed.

At a press conference on 3 August, he referred to the problems of the UK bid for the IAAF World Championships and the Pickett's Lock issue, but added: 'This has totally been alleviated or even totally erased by the very high standards of the Manchester Games.'

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