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Advertising, Public Relations and the 2008 Beijing Olympics

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    Analyze the reasons why the Chinese government hired a Western public relations firm to work on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Over the past three decades or so, the body of knowledge of public relations has grown significantly and public relations continue to evolve as a strong discipline (Sriramesh and Vercic, 2001). It is important to note that public relations are not marketing but good relations with the public are essential to marketing success. In one sense, public relations can be considered in a similar vein as the marketing of a product.

    Products can only enjoy continued success if its performance is satisfactory, as the image of the product cannot be maintained if product performance is inconsistent. Similarly public relations cannot be more effective than the corporate behavior behind it. Public relations involves more than corporate communications, it requires appropriate corporate behavior. China had experienced bad publicity ahead of the Olympics where; Beijing’s image was seriously battered by widely publicized protests especially in London, Paris and San Francisco, disrupting the Beijing Olympic torch relay.

    Also, Chinese embassies and consulates in several cities were also damaged because of protests by pro-Tibet groups and others capitalizing on the publicity of summer Games. Therefore, China decided that it would be a better idea to hire foreign Public Relation firms to handle the publicity issues of the games. “Several British and US agencies were invited to interviews with Chinese officials to discuss a contract, which includes pre-games PR strategies, media training and market research on western perceptions of China” (AFP, 2008).

    Finally China decided to hire US Weber Shandwick and British Bell Pottinger as the major PR firms of the 2008 Beijing games. The Chinese government hired these world’s best PR firms to advise them on how to handle the situations of bad publicity. These PR firms are experienced with working at major events and China had spent too much money to make these games successful to lose the battle of human activists and protestors. Determine the reasons why protesters and activists target events such as the Olympics.

    Protestors and activists target big events such as the Olympics because they know that every single person in the world is watching and that the publicity would mean world coverage. Human rights activists such as Dream for Darfur who asked that major companies such as McDonalds and Microsoft, would put pressure on the Chinese government and express concern over Darfur, or take a symbolic stand by calling publicly for officials from Sudan who have been accused of crimes against humanity.

    Protestors and activists use every mean to advertize for their events; they use blogs, face book, and websites to try to draw as many people as possible. For instance, as an attempt to get media involved before the start of the games, Protestors targeted every torch relay protest schedule around the world. One of the biggest incidents happened in Paris; “The Beijing Olympic flame ended its chaotic relay journey through Paris Monday, marred by citywide protests against China’s crackdown in Tibet that forced the torchbearers to take refuge in a bus” (AFP, Paris, Apr. -2008). For Beijing, the Olympics are part of a broader campaign to reshape China’s international image, to come out from its box and be more than a place for cheap labor, human rights violations and lingering autocracy. Beijing has begun more active involvement in international peacekeeping operations under the United Nations, is shaping new regional development finds (the most recent for Africa) and is expanding civilian and military exchanges with countries around the globe.

    The Olympics were to showcase the new, modern China, and to remove any lingering doubts about the economic reforms and changes taking place in China. But before the start of the games the risks of exposing the continued inequalities and flaws in the system were equally great. Determine if the opportunity to reach a global audience by advertising during the Olympics offset the potential for bad publicity. There is a huge opportunity to advertise during the Olympics.

    It is a time where if you are not at the stadium or arena watching the games live; you are in front of the TV trying to follow your favorite sportsmen & sportswomen. In fact, nowadays, with the popularity of Social Media, Video Websites and Mobile Applications growing steadily, marketers have the opportunity to engage consumers like never before. The only thing is that there is a slight chance that product advertizing can offset the potential for bad publicity. It would have to take more than product advertising to offset the bad publicity.

    In fact each company that faces a crisis that involves bad publicity would need a very strong, professional and experienced PR firm, to be able to come up with the best approach to defend itself and make people forget about the bad publicity that affected it. Assess how well of a job the companies identified in this case did in anticipating and responding to the protests. Each company did its best to reduce the negative publicity and respond to the protests. Coca Cola committed to ensuring that relief supplies reach Darfur, making sure that fresh water reaches those affected areas.

    Coke did very well; especially that China is one of its biggest markets and represent more than five percent of its revenues. Adidas, in contrast to Coca cola, did not have a large market. Adidas tried to use the Olympic Games to reach to the Chinese youth and make sure that everyone starts forgetting that Nike is the brand that dominates the Athletic wear market. Adidas opened one of the biggest stores in downtown Beijing, in the hopes of attracting more customers and create brand awareness among its Chinese customers.

    Lenovo, which is one of the only Chinese brands that was sponsoring the games, had the responsibility of making the torch. Lenovo took advantage of the global exposure to advertize its brand to foreign customers. Lenovo is very well-known is China, but is not very famous is other countries, that is why the Olympics gave them the exposure they needed. Carrefour which is a French firm, and even if it was not a sponsor of the games, it was directly affected by the protests because of the torch incident that happened in Paris.

    There were rumors that Carrefour is a supporter of the Tibet’s independence movement which made many Chinese very angry. The president of Carrefour had to give a statement and apologize for something he did not have anything to do with it. I think that these companies did very well in responding to these incidents and protests but they only measured the risk to their brand and not to the people who are protesting. I feel like all they wanted to do is save their brand image even if it takes agreeing to some extents with the protestor’s demands, or make fake public apologies.


    Keegan, W. J., & Green, M. C. (2011). Global marketing: 2011 custom edition (6th ed.). Upper

    Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall/ Pearson.

    Sriramesh, K and Vercic, D. (2001) International public relations: a framework for future research. Journal of Communication Management, 6 (2), pp. 103-117.

    AFP (2008) China faces uphill task polishing image ahead of Olympics. Retrieved from:

    CBC News (2010) Protestors target torch run

    Retrieved from:

    AFP (Apr.7-2008) Protestors disrupt Beijing Olympic torch relay in Paris

    Retrieved from:,_apr7

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