Haven't heard any update on China's reported search for a PR agency to assist in crisis communications as it makes final preparations for the Olympics this summer. Government officials initiated the search, first reported in the Financial Times April 4, after they lost patience at what they see as biased Western media coverage of anti-Chinese protests.
And that was before the Olympic torch relay debacle.
In Paris and London, protesters diverted attention from the upcoming Beijing games and onto the struggles in Tibet, demonstrating an adroit sense of media management/manipulation, as detailed in the New York Times. Their tactics were disruptive and boorish - one protester even tried to wrestle the torch from wheelchair-bound athlete Jin Jang, who instantly became a hero in China. Yet, to the chagrin of the Chinese government, the protests generated more attention than the torch relay itself.
Then in San Francisco, there was the bizarre spectacle of a last minute route change cleverly designed to thwart protesters but also leaving waiting crowds without a glimpse of the torch. Which begged the question, if an Olympic torch ceremony proceeds in secret, is it really a ceremony?
(For a look at how the Chinese government would have the world's media cover the run-up to the Games, check out the official website for the Olympic torch relay. No controversy here! The San Francisco coverage: "Under a sunny sky, thousands of people began gathering along the route of the Olympic torch relay to show their support for the torch run.")
PR Week has been following the story but has not yet been able to identify any PR firms actively going after the business associated with China's desire to ward off unwanted attention to protests and criticism. I doubt that China will be receptive to serious crisis communications counsel; what they are looking for appears to be the old-fashioned white-washing that is no longer effective in a hyper-connected world. So don't look for any major firms to vie for the business. Hill & Knowlton's role likely will continue to be limited to publicizing the games.
- Jon Harmon