PR Shops Fuel the Flame In Olympic Host-City Bids

If you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em. Paris lost its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games to Beijing, a victory engineered in part by Beijing’s PR firm, Weber Shandwick. So Paris, without an Olympics since 1924, last week hired the Interpublic Group agency to help the City of Lights compete for the right to host the 2012 games.

PR is key for candidate cities since International Olympic Committee members are forbidden to make visits to those cities.

“Basically, you have to convince someone who’s not coming to the city, that the city is worth coming to,” said Katie Paine, CEO of PR consultancy KDPaine & Partners in Durham, N.H. “Public relations … is critical to winning a bid.”

And “[Weber Shandwick] has been on the winning side many times,” said Jerome Lenfant, media relations director at Paris 2012, the organization behind the Paris bid, which tapped the shop after a review that included six other undisclosed shops.

In addition to Beijing, New York-based Weber Shandwick turned in winning efforts for the Sydney 2000 Summer Games and the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics.

Paris is battling New York, London, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Istanbul, Havana and Leipzig, all applicant cities until May 18, 2004, when the executive board of the IOC chooses the short list. Paris, London and New York are all considered top contenders and likely to make the cut.

Since candidates are not allowed to begin promoting internationally until Nov. 15, 2004, not all of the bidding cities have their PR strategies in place yet. London 2012, for instance, has not hired a PR firm, according to an organization representative, though sources say WPP’s Hill & Knowlton is a likely candidate. M&C Saatchi is London 2012’s ad agency.

Last year, NYC2012, the group behind New York’s bid, formed a 14-person creative council consisting of ad executives. NYC2012 is currently “exploring options for international [PR] outreach,” said Amy Stanton, director of marketing and communications. Stanton noted there is no timeline for making a decision.

Leipzig 2012 is working with Munich-based Heye Communication. A company rep said that, until Nov. 15, the organization will “concentrate on PR and advertising in Germany.”

As for the Gallic bid, Weber Shandwick’s Paris office will work with Paris 2012’s ad agency Publicis. In November, the global campaign will focus on reaching the broader Olympic family, including sportswriters, the general media and the various National Olympic Committees, said Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick.

“It’s important for any bidding city to have a national communication and mobilization strategy, but at the end of the day, the stakes that matter are across the borders,” said Lenfant. “The IOC is an international body. We have to convince its members that Paris 2012 is determined to win and put up great games. So it is essential to reach the international media, create buzz and not sit in an ivory tower [thinking] ‘We deserve the games.’ ”

Although agencies take on Olympic-bid assignments for greatly reduced fees, the prestige gained from being associated with a winning bid is worth the effort. “Do you make a lot of money? No,” said consultant Paine. “There’s a lot of travel costs and staff time. [But a win] enhances your clout.”

The IOC will select the 2012 host city on July 6, 2005.