Event PR: The Greatest Show on Earth

Burson-Marsteller's Amanda Kamin reports on the highs and lows of three hectic weeks in Athens promoting Olympic Games sponsor Visa International.



After months of phone calls, planning and preparation, the on-the-ground work begins even as we arrive at Heathrow for the flight to Athens. Waiting with the Visa team in the lounge, we bump into the Bermuda Olympic team and Sean Kerly, winner of a gold medal with the British hockey team in 1988. We invite him to our first media reception on Tuesday.


We arrive at the Visa press office, with every piece of communications kit - mobiles, Blackberries, laptops - and ring the media to get journalists to our press reception tomorrow evening. We then visit event venues to check the display materials we have designed, then back to the office to work the phones till 1am.


We begin preparations for tonight's media reception. The journalists show up as soon as it kicks off - we have everyone from Shanghai TV to The Wall Street Journal and EuroSport. Many are hoping for interviews with athletes that we can organise. Others, from Bloomberg and Reuters, are looking for a business angle and we inform them about the special briefing on sponsorship we have organised.


Today we opened the Visa Olympians Reunion Center (VORC) at the Athens Tennis Club with 350 guests and camera crews. Even at night it's hot in Athens, so we organised for water misters for the terrace earlier on.

Carl Lewis turns up, as does Prince Albert of Monaco, much to the media's interest. We have to make sure the journalists have the proper accreditation before letting them in and facilitate introductions to people such as Visa head of sponsorship Tom Shepard. There's one stressful moment: running around with two Italian journalists desperate to speak to Lewis,who left 20 minutes earlier. We track him down and the Carl Lewis story is on the front page of La Gazzetta dello Sport the next day.


Today we have the first Team Visa lunch. Team Visa is a sponsorship and mentoring programme and the lunch features Sir Steve Redgrave, the mentor for the UK Team Visa athletes. My colleague disappears to VORC to help manage the event, while I hit the phones again to drum up media attendance for tomorrow's big event - the awards ceremony for the Visa Olympics of the Imagination (VOI) children's art contest. The finalists are from 17 countries, and even with five people it takes us hours to contact them all. I know the result of the contest and have to encourage the Chinese media to attend without revealing the winner. At 10pm it's time for another meeting, over dinner, then back to the office at 1am to load up for tomorrow.


We spend two hours setting up the venue and by 11am it's 40degC, so we've organised to have 200 bottles of water sent to the venue. A journalist from EuroSport rings and asks if Prince Faisal of Jordan can attend with some guests. Redgrave and Prince Albert will be handing out medals to the kids and the VIP room also holds EU commissioner for culture and sport Viviane Reding, and about 12 bodyguards for both princes. Camera crews from Mexico, Greece, Poland, Russia and China begin to arrive, as does a Polish radio station and UK journalists. We're pleased at the turnout because we were concerned the big story about the Greek sprinters would undermine all our efforts.


My first day off. I've been given tickets for the swimming and men's gymnastics events, so I watch the sports for a while before heading to the beach. Hosting four major events in five days is no easy task and I'm glad we did so much preparation in London. Now it's begun, there are fewer sponsor events because the journalists are covering the sports.

I can see why it's important to reach them during the first week as we're beginning to build up a large clippings file, including hits in The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, and on ITN and Sky News.



The finalists from VOI are scheduled to appear on Rendezvous Athens, a late-night talk-show on Greek National Broadcast TV, so we head down to the TV station with the children and their guardians.

The programme features their artwork, along with a B-roll of the grand opening of VORC, which is an excellent result.


It's time to get ready for tonight's event to celebrate the Torino 2006 Winter Games. The close contact we've had with the Torino organising committee PR team will be very useful for us in two years. Turismo Torino has laid on Italy's premier bartender and an extensive Italian buffet, which pleases the business and travel journalists we've invited.


Visa is holding a briefing about the business of sponsorship for some of the non-sporting journalists who have been sent to Athens in case of a crisis. With little to report on so far, they are grateful for a business-based story. We now have good relationships with them all because we've seen them at our other events, and we're in a position to help Visa get positive coverage.

The rest of the second week is focused on preparation for the major events next week, although we still have to get hold of some national media for Team Visa lunches. We also get some time off and tickets for the Games.



Swimmer Michael Phelps is sponsored by Visa USA and will be at VORC today for a press conference with Visa USA head of sponsorship Michael Lynch.

We've had less than a day to prepare, but it's been an easy sell. We focus on the stage dressing, getting Phelps to and from the event and how to handle all the questions we're expecting from the media.


Today we help Visa Europe with the Italian Team Visa lunch. Later Cherie Blair pays a visit to VORC.


For the past couple of days, we've been preparing for the Team Visa party, which is held today for all the athletes and their mentors, including Rosa Mota, Sara Simeoni, Redgrave, and the media.


We get a call at short notice about former Olympic gymnastic gold medallist Nadia Comaneci visiting VORC. The team is fully occupied with calls for our Beijing 2008 event tomorrow, but fortunately I know from a contact at The Times that Alastair Campbell is looking for interviews with prominent Olympians. My colleague Sujit ends up chatting to Campbell over a drink while arranging an interview with Comaneci.


Tonight is our last event. We've been working with the Visa China PR team and the Chinese National Tourism Agency on a press briefing for the next Olympic Games in Beijing. The Visa Olympians Reunion Center will be decorated throughout with red lanterns and there will be a Chinese dance performance after the briefing.

Although there will be a symbolic hand-over of the Games from Athens to Beijing at the closing ceremony tomorrow, tonight is the business hand-over and it's a great way to finish. We'll be heading home on Monday after three action-packed weeks, but we'll be doing it all again in mid-September at the Paralympics. M

Amanda Kamin is an associate in the corporate department at Burson-Marsteller.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in