How I figured out a PR coup for maths

Professional conference organ- iser Incon’s partner company in Korea, MECI, managed the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in Seoul in 2014. From the outset MECI advised the organising comm- ittee to retain a dedicated PR firm. However, this was not to be and MECI put in place a fully fledged PR campaign alongside its PCO mandate.

As a result of this dedicated PR service, the event attracted over 250 reporters with more than 1,800 articles written and published about the event from January to August in 2014. In fact, the term “International Congress of Mathematicians” became the most searched keyword online in Korea for some time.

The success of MECI’s work resulted in both the event and the PCO winning the Korea Event PR Award of the Year. With 5,200 registered participants and 21,000 from the public, Seoul ICM 2014 made ICM history. Why was Seoul ICM 2014 such a PR success?

1. Well prepared strategy
The event PR strategy was prepared about a year before the event. The strategy encompassed many strands including the rebranding of the ICM’s Fields Medal award to “the Nobel Prize in the world of mathematics”. MECI also tapped into some celebrity endorsement by involving James Harris Simons, a superstar mathematician who is also known as the “88th-richest person in the world”. This resulted in impressive news coverage during the event. A special Baduk match (a game also known Go) between the world’s leading professional players and mathematicians.

Other PR tactics included releasing a special memorial stamp album, offering 10 rounds of free lecture tours prior to the event, and organising networking opportunities with actors from movies with a mathematics theme.

2. Government engagement
By designating 2014 as the “Year of Mathematics”, the South Korean government officially created a PR platform. Capitalising on this, MECI partnered with a range of national organisations to hold diverse cultural events and mathematical games.

Since these events were government led, they attracted more media attention which led to more published articles on mathematics. In addition, MECI designated the Korean Education Broadcasting System as the official broadcaster of Seoul ICM 2014, which aired documentaries on mathematics throughout the event. The result was an event that was collaboratively supported by the local government, major press, TV and online news sites.

3. Public participation
To gain more publicity, MECI leveraged  “The Fields Medal” event by making it more open and fun. This included the release of a chocolate version of the medal; the commissioning of a web cartoon series and the development of a TV quiz show. Promotional videos of the event were on the event’s official website, YouTube channels, subways and on outdoor electric signage. A maths-themed calendar was also distributed online and on three rounds of social-networking events. MECI also garnered support from student population by sending letters and posters to colleges and universities asking for volunteers.

4. Crisis management
MECI faced unexpected challenges during the PR effort. The most unexpected of which was the 2014 ebola outbreak with cases discovered in Seoul. When it was learned that many participants would be from Africa, the media went into overdrive.

The organising committee quickly set up a task force to deal directly with press enquiries.

Since the 2014 event, the ICM’s Facebook account has more than doubled its reach with over 8,000 likes. The event has also encouraged many more students to enjoy mathematics in school with universities reporting record levels of interest in the subject.

By using a strategic PR campaign, PCOs can have a profound and lasting influence on the success and impact of an international conference. Learning from Seoul ICM 2014, it is time for PCOs to go beyond the simple concept of arranging and supporting the operation of events. With innovative ideas and carefully planned strategies, PCOs can optimise and maximise the influence and impact of the events that they manage.

Dohyun Kim is an assistant with MECI, Incon’s partner company in Korea. She led promotion efforts for ICM 2014 and was an Innovation Award finalist at 2014 Iapco gala in Frankfurt

This is an edited version of a case study published by Incon – Global Partnership in Conferences & Events

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