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International spotlight.


The reporter's assignment was to file "color" stories on Houston to set the scene for later reports by his television network on the global trade issues being discussed by the leaders of Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the United States, Great Britain, West Germany and the European Community.

While his editors in Tokyo wanted feature background stories on Houston and had certain preconceived ideas about the host city for the summit, their major interest was the substance of the talks themselves. Houston offered a colorful setting, but it was just that: the setting. Last year it was Paris during the bicentennial; next year it would be London.

For members of the Houston Economic Summit Media Relations Task Force, the assignment was equally simple": Prepare a strategy and background material to convince more than 4,000 journalists that Houston was more than oil wells, cowboys, unemployed workers and vacant, foreclosed office buildings.

At the same time, the assignment for hundreds of other volunteers in Houston was to address the thousands of logistical requirements for one of the largest and most complex international events of the year. For Houston, it meant that for three days the city would serve as the working capital for seven of the world's most powerful countries.

In approaching its overall assignment, Houston recognized that to promote the city's economic recovery and diversification during the summit, the city had to ensure that the myriad of logistical and diplomatic details went smoothly. In other words, for Houston to be successful, the summit had to be successful.

Preparing for the Summit

Houston's preparations began almost a year in advance. In an unplanned way, US President Bush first propelled Houston into the media spotlight when he was asked at the conclusion of the economic summit in Paris where he wanted to host the next economic summit. His tongue-in-cheek response was "The fact that I'm from Houston and Secretary of State Jim Baker is from Houston and Secretary of Commerce Rob Mosbacher is from Houston should have nothing to do with the decision."

Those off-the-cuff comments started a whirlwind of media inquiries about Houston.

During the next 12 months, many people and organizations in Houston played an important role in helping to promote the city. But it was a team of dedicated public relations volunteers that worked to ensure that the Houston message was clearly defined and then effectively communicated to the national and international news media.

For the United States, organizing and preparing for the summit was the responsibility of Frederick Malek, who was hand-picked by US President Bush and who carried the title of ambassador for the economic summit. Staff from the White House and State Department were assigned to the economic summit planning team and, under Ambassador Malek's direction, oversaw every detail involved in logistical operations as well as the substance of the summit talks.

To assist the White House, Houston organized a 250-member economic summit host committee to help coordinate and provide resources for the summit. While the White House summit team was responsible for all official" summit activities, the Houston host committee worked to make sure that Houston was prepared to welcome its international guests. Special committees were organized in four areas: Media, Special Events, Clean Houston and Houston Friendly. Each committee played an important role in contributing to Houston's success in hosting the summit.

Planning for the Media

One of the first steps for the media committee was to meet with the White House staff and develop a coordinated plan for all communication with the 4,000 journalists who were expected to attend.

The role of the White House summit planners was to coordinate all "official" communications and logistical requirements for the news media, including credentials, news pools, press conferences and summit briefing material. While the Houston media committee provided input and support throughout the planning process and during the summit, the committee was able to concentrate on developing and implementing a plan to tell the Houston story during the summit.

Understanding the Media

To prepare its media relations plan, Houston began by talking with several US national news organizations. The national media quickly confirmed that their approach to covering events like the summit had changed from previous years. Many advised that they would not be sending a large number of reporters to Houston, as they might have done in the past. The reporters that would be coming would have specific beats and assignments related to the issues of the summit. Any Houston color stories would be done by the Houston bureau reporters.

For Houston, this meant being very targeted in contacting the media, both in terms of which reporters would be assigned and what kinds of feature stories they would be most likely to pursue.

During this period, Houston also began working closely with one of the strongest links to the international news media: the US Information Agency (USIA). In addition to being responsible for producing the Voice of America broadcasts, the USIA during the summit played a key role in credentialling the media. Through its foreign press centers in New York, Washington and Los Angeles as well as US embassies abroad, the agency provided Houston with a direct channel for reaching the international news media. Working closely with USIA, Houston was able to identify, target and get mailing information on each writer, producer and reporter that would be coming to Houston.

Based on input from the White House, USIA and the media, Houston made the following assumptions:

* About 3,000-4,000 media representatives would be attending the summit, but fewer than 200 would likely be assigned to develop feature stories on Houston. The remainder would be working on summit-related events.

* Most of those working on Houston feature stories would have preconceived ideas about the city and almost no current information about Houston.

* Most would be sequestered at the George R. Brown Convention Center because of space limitations at the site of the talks at Rice University.

Defining Houston's Message

With insight from the media and USIA, the next step was to define the major message points that Houston wanted to deliver to the media around the world. The goal was to tailor Houston's message to meet both the expectations and needs of journalists attending a summit on international economic issues. As a result, the Houston message points that would become the basis for all communication with the international media were:

* Houston has experienced three years of economic recovery and has added almost 175,000 jobs.

* Houston's economy has diversified during the 1980s. The oil and gas exploration and production industry has dropped from 69 to 42 percent of the local economy while other industries have grown from 16 to 39 percent.

* Houston is an international city with more than 2,000 firms involved in international business and the largest number of consular offices in the Southwest.

The next step was to turn those message points into material that could be easily used by a variety of print and electronic news media. In developing the Houston media guide, the first goal was to develop a package that would be viewed as a resource by the news media. That meant that the media guide had to have concise and current information that was easy to find and use. Reporters had to be able to find almost anything they wanted to know about Houston as quickly as possible.

The final product was a 150-page bound guide with a complete index of major topics related to Houston's economy and summit countries. Trade and cultural facts, figures and anecdotes were developed for each of the participating countries as well as each member country of the European Community. Special reports also were prepared on the international links to Houston's energy, medical, space, agriculture and technology industries. In addition, a special section provided a list of other sources and experts who could provide interviews on a variety of both Houston- and summit-related topics.

During preparation of the Houston Media Guide, a key question arose over whether to provide copies of the guide in French, Italian, Japanese and German. All "official" summit material prepared by the US government had to be printed in the "official" summit languages, English and French. After many discussions with the US Information Agency and other government groups, it was decided to publish only an English version of the Houston Media Guide and to have translators available throughout the summit at a Houston Information Center.

When a French reporter later referred to the Houston Media Guide as the Houston bible," it was clear that the goal of producing a resource document for the media had been met.

Television Coverage of Houston

To meet the needs of television journalists during the summit, Houston also produced a video "B" roll of background footage of Houston. Emphasis was placed on footage that would be difficult for the media to get during the summit. This included aerials of Houston, Rice University, and other summit sites, the Texas Medical Center, Port of Houston and Johnson Space Center.

In developing the video, however, Houston did not use a video news release format. Instead, with advice and input from local television networks and the USIA's Film and Video Division, the video was developed as a working tape for television journalists. Instead of full script, the Houston video had only "natural" background sounds for each of the 40 scenes or clips. Each clip, which averaged 15-20 seconds in length, was identified with a brief description on a timed log sheet that accompanied the video.

The Houston video, which was reproduced in Betacam format, came as a welcome surprise to many television news crews. As security restrictions limited helicopter flights and road blocks to make access more difficult, many film crews drew upon the Houston video for background scenes of Houston and the summit sites.

In addition to providing Betacam copies of the video through USIA's foreign press centers in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, the video also was beamed via satellite to US television stations during the week prior to the summit.

During the summit, pool television coverage of summit events was coordinated by the White House and USIA. Each domestic television network was responsible for its own transmission while many foreign broadcasters worked closely with the Houston-based firm, Satellite Transmission and Reception Specialists to provide the necessary uplinks to satellites for Europe and Japan.

Working with the broadcasters, Houston made arrangements to have tapes made from the satellite transmissions of several international broadcasts. In reports filed by Japanese, British and French television networks, Houston's hard work and preparation paid off as the news reports on Houston featured many of the video segments from the Houston video "B" roll.

Working with the Media

While Houston was preparing specific story ideas, the task force also was alert to media opportunities as they developed. And, in fact, one of the most positive stories on Houston was first suggested by the news media.

Unsolicited calls from the news media started coming in about three months before the summit. Many of the early media requests and inquiries focused on what the summit would mean to Houston. And while many were aware that Houston's economy had begun to recover, most were surprised to learn about the strength and diversity of Houston's recovery.

Houston, however, had a number of surprises for reporters who called with preconceived story ideas about Houston.

Perhaps the story that piqued the most interest among reporters-and that defied the "good old boy" stereotype of Houston-was the fact that seven women now serve in some of the highest positions in Houston. From Houston Mayor Kathryn Whtmire to Houston Police Chief Elizabeth Watson and Houston Chamber of Commerce President Eileen Crowley, the reality of Houston's progress defied the preconceived stereotypes of the city. And the media jumped on the story.

Ironically, the story idea first surfaced during one of the early pre-summit discussions with the national media. As more news media became intrigued by the story, it became a major feature story for Houston. As a result of the summit, the story of Houston's new women leaders has been picked up and written about by French, British and Japanese news media. (The story of the emerging role of women leaders in Houston also has been singled out by the authors of "Megatrends 2000" as a development to watch.)

Pitching the Media

While Houston welcomed the unsolicited media inquiries and requests, the task force also recognized the importance of establishing direct contact with the news media that would be reporting from Houston. A team of experienced media relations professionals was assembled and given the assignment to contact 10 target media.

Three goals were set:

* Establish early contact with the media,

* Determine their level of knowledge and interests in Houston stories; and

* Provide assistance in setting up interviews and tours.

The early contact also was aimed at trying to identify any potential problems or negative stories being considered by the media. All task force members provided weekly reports on their contacts and the status of their plans for Houston.

During the two weeks prior to and during the summit, the task force logged several hundred media calls, inquiries and interview requests. They came from all around the world: Europe, the Soviet Union, South America, the Far East.

Every major news organization was represented, from the BBC to Tass.

But the largest number of media came from Japan. In many respects, the Japanese blanketed the summit in Houston. They were the first to arrive and the first to set up fully operational news rooms. The Japanese media also were the last to leave each night and the last to dismantle their news rooms at the end of the summit.

And it was the Japanese media that were the most fascinated by Houston's story. Many came with very little knowledge of Houston and were surprised to discover that Houston sits on the edge of a national forest, is the third largest port in the United States and is one of only four US cities with resident companies for symphony, opera, ballet and theater.

The Japanese were not the only media to be surprised by what they found in Houston. From FNN to BBC, reporters who came expecting to file stories on a depressed economy and vacant office buildings instead broadcast interviews on Houston's growing diversity and economic recovery.

Summit Follow-up

While the whirlwind of the summit has passed and the media have moved on to other stories, Houston is committed to capitalizing on the momentum and the exposure provided by the summit.

The next phase of marketing Houston, in fact, began immediately after the summit. Special marketing materials featuring international scenes from the summit have been developed and are being used to encourage trade and new business with Houston.

In addition, copies of a four-page special section on Houston that appeared in Japan's Asahi Shimbun were mailed to 150 Japanese companies. More than 30 of the Japanese companies responded to the direct mail campaign and have discussed opening new operations in Houston.

During the summit, Houston also unveiled plans for a major Japanese garden in the city and announced the start of direct air service to Japan. Houston will try to further its ties with Japan and the 125 Japanese companies already operating in Houston during a week-long celebration in honor of Japan during the spring of 1991.

Houston also is working to maintain the newly developed contacts with national and international news media. During the past few months, each of the major news organizations that attended the summit has been contacted at least once and personal calls have been made to follow-up on specific story ideas and interests that were initiated during the summit.

Ray Viator is vice president, communication, Greater Houston Partners Organization, Houston, Texas.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:public relations campaign of Houston, Texas, during the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations
Author:Viator, Ray
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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