Tibet Supporters Use PR to Outfox China

Last Updated Apr 14, 2008 8:02 PM EDT

The New York Times, of all places, gives a shout-out to the "value of PR" in a business section story today about how Tibet supporters leveraged the upcoming Beijing Olympics to shine a spotlight on China's treatment of Tibet:
"The protesters quickly established a communications plan, focused their message and ran camps where they taught members interview skills...As a result, the protesters have pulled off a publicity coup. Instead of basking in the glow of the coming games, China has quickly found itself on the defensive, and protesters have turned the subject from athletics in Beijing to the crackdown in Tibet."
The strategy in a nutshell:
"At first there was a profound sense of despair after the Chinese government was awarded the honor," said Kalaya'an Mendoza, a coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet, an activist group. "But after five minutes passed, we realized this would be a monumental opportunity for the Tibetan people to be put in the international spotlight."
The U.S. media loves a catfight, particularly one pitting political crusaders against an authoritarian government. But business journalists are anxious to cover he-said-she-said stories too. So these are the lessons for business PR people from this episode:
  1. If you're the underdog, pick a fight with the big dog.
  2. If you're the underdog, you're probably smaller and more agile than the big dog. Use that to your advantage to out-hustle the big dog -- get your messages together, train your spokespeople, look for opportunities to get your message out (e.g., the Torch Relay)
  3. Give the media what it craves: action. People taking risks. Colorful photos (e.g., protesters on the Golden Gate Bridge). An easy story to tell.
And if you are the big dog? Not all is lost. Here's what you do: Change the subject. Where are the stories about Beijing Olympic readiness, heroic athletes striving to make the Games, anxious Chinese readying their country for the Olympic spotlight?
  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.