New York, San Fran Think Globally, Pitch Locally for Olympic Bid


On Nov. 3 one city will know the thrill of victory, while another will taste the agony of defeat - and PR will play a prominent role in determining the victor. Last month, the U.S. Olympic Committee narrowed the contenders to host the 2012 Olympic Games to New York City and San Francisco. This fall the USOC will choose one of these to vie at the international level. PR practitioners involved in both bids say they must reach out on the local, national and international fronts, and although they are constrained by International Olympic Committee rules that regulate certain aspects of PR, their efforts provide some powerful lessons for any PR practitioner performing the delicate balancing act between global and local communications. Selling Locals on the Games In both cities, communicating with local audiences has meant laying the facts on the table to ensure citizens understand the direct impact the games might have on them, as well as the steps the cities would take to minimize any negative effects. For the City by the Bay, known for its proud tradition of local political activism, selling the Olympic idea to the citizenry was the first and perhaps most significant challenge. To make its case, the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee, a nonprofit devoted to winning the city's bid for the Games, positioned the city's effort "as a bid that really reflects the sensibilities of the Bay area," says Tony Winnicker, BASOC communications director. BASOC includes one other staffer in addition to Winnicker, plus 10 PR volunteers who work in conjunction with the committee, along with staffing from Ketchum (which varies depending on the need of the day). Early messaging stressed that the environmental impact of the games would be mitigated, traffic concerns would be addressed, and so forth. To back up those messages, BASOC released its entire 1,000-page bid book in hard copy form to interested reporters. The committee also plans to have the book available online. "We have been very transparent, in part because this is a region that demands transparency," says Winnicker. "When people know that you have nothing to hide, it builds a sense of trust." As the competition has moved toward the national and international levels, Winnicker's team has worked to maintain the bid's 84-percent public support rating in the Bay area. New York City has been no less aggressive in garnering local support. "What has worked best has been basic information," says Jay Kriegel, executive director of NYC2012. "Our job has been very much a factual-information sell. We have been using the media as much as possible just to tell that story and to get that factual information out there." The PR team's foremost strategy has been the personal sell at the community level, which is no small feat in a city with hundreds of local weeklies as well as some 200 foreign- language community papers. "It has been our policy to always be available, and to be personally available," says Kriegel. "When reporters call, I talk to them, and [New York City Deputy Mayor and NYC2012 founder] Dan Doctoroff talks to them." Selling the Games on Locales As the competition moves forward, both cities already are planning their international PR tactics, but rules set forth by the International Olympic Committee prevent them from taking any proactive measures, at least for now. Bid cities can respond to calls from overseas journalists, but a city cannot actively pitch the foreign press until it becomes the nation's sole bid city. In this regard, NYC promoters say they may have a slight advantage coming out of the gate, much as a well-known worldwide brand has an advantage over any other brand when launching a global PR campaign. "In New York, when you have a local story or a regional story, it is much easier for that to become a national or international story," says Mike Paul, who as president of MGP & Associates PR, serves on the communications advisory committee for NCY2012. Outside observers, however, do see a few weaknesses in New York's global strategies. New York may have a stronger international "brand," not to mention global sympathy following the Sept. 11 attacks (although the PR team is making no references to 9/11). But Stephen Coltrin says the city does not understand IOC budget concerns. As chairman and CEO of Coltrin & Associates, Coltrin headed up PR for the 2002 Salt Lake City winter games. While the international committee has been pushing for less expensive games, the cost of doing business in the Big Apple necessitates a fairly substantial Olympic budget. That being the case, Coltrin says, NYC2012 needs to do more to explain the situation to a global audience. "If you need those big numbers to do it, that may be alright, but you need to explain why that is the case and why a city like New York may have a greater ability to meet those numbers," he says. As the bids have progressed, officials in San Francisco have also learned some lessons about what does not work. The present emphasis on transparency, for example, comes partly as a result of some early negative press. In the first weeks of the process, the team didn't release all the budget information because of its complexity. Speculation immediately arose that the committee was hiding some fiscal irresponsibility. Coltrin praises San Francisco for its efforts to position itself as a sophisticated international destination, however, and says he thinks the city's officials have an accurate perspective on what would appeal to the IOC. Coltrin says both cities have strong selling points, and that both have put forth highly credible PR efforts. But who's going to carry the Stars and Stripes when the competition goes international on Nov. 3? He wouldn't hazard a guess. City in Crisis As Chairman and CEO of Coltrin & Associates, Stephen Coltrin served as PR lead for the 2002 Salt Lake City winter games. He got the games - and a boatload of trouble too. Before Salt Lake City, it was common practice for bid cities to create elaborate (and expensive) supporting materials and even to pass out pricey gifts as a part of the promotions process. Some say Utah officials went over the top. In any case, those PR efforts blossomed into a scandal that has forced bid cities to rewrite the playbook. "The whole landscape has changed" for Olympic bid cities, says Coltrin. "The practice of passing out any kind of well-done but nonetheless extravagant gifts, brochures, videos - that is no longer acceptable. In the environment we are now operating in, anything done to excess would be a mistake." (Contacts: Stephen Coltrin, 212/ 221-1616; Jay Kriegel, 212/953-2012; Mike Paul, 212/ 595-8500; Tony Winnicker, 415/394-6755)

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