Arrivals and Departures

This month Arrivals & Departures takes a different approach from its usual format to focus on Weber Shandwick’s new Olympic bid specialist, Nicolas Serres.

As Tokyo prepares its allout campaign for the 2016 Olympics, PR consultancy Weber Shandwick has joined the fray to make sure the city’s message reaches the ears of the International Olympic Committee’s officials worldwide. Last month, Nicolas Serres, a veteran of two Olympic bids, arrived in Tokyo to help coordinate the media strategy for the candidate city. The 30-year-old Parisian says that if successful, the Olympics could see Tokyo become a reference point for the world’s largest cities. “They are looking to tackle the issues of the mega-cities—aging populations, the environment,” he says. “Tokyo will become a benchmark.”

While some of Tokyo Mayor Shintaro Ishihara’s plans have met with opposition—the relocation of the Tsukiji fish market in particular drawing criticism from locals—the 75-year-old’s re-election last year ended up paving the way for a full-scale bid for the international sporting event. Weber Shandwick, along with several other private firms, was enlisted to smooth the way. Serres was then brought in on a 15-month contract to see the bid through to its completion.

As an undergraduate, Serres studied anthropology at the University of St Denis and communications at the University of Paris, also known as La Sobonne, before doing an exchange at Oxford Brookes University in England. He continued to study anthropology at Brown University in Providence, US, and then went on to complete a Master’s in Anthropology at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) university in Paris. After a stint volunteering for NGO Caritas in Australia, Serres began working for Weber Shandwick in Paris.

Nicolas SerresNicolas Serres

In 2004, following the success of France’s FIFA World Cup in 1998, Paris was campaigning for the 2012 Olympics. “The World Cup was a huge moment for France” he says. “It was an amazing time to be there, that was why I was so keen to work for the 2012 Olympics bid.” Serres says the announcement that London had won the right to hold the Olympics came as shock to the French committee who were overly confident of a win. After the unsuccessful bid, Serres moved briefly to PR firm GCIGroupe Grey, before returning to Weber Shandwick to work on Russia’s bid for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

The lessons from the French bid enabled the Weber Shandwick team to create a better blueprint for the Russians. The right amount of buzz was created to push through a bid designed to revitalize Russian society, with about US$12 billion allotted to build infrastructure that would enable the city of Sochi, situated on the Black Sea at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, to host the games.

The senior consultant says that comparisons can be drawn between the Sochi bid and Tokyo’s bid: “Sochi was to be the regeneration of an area and so in a way the two bids are connected.” If successful, the Tokyo 2016 Olympics, however, will highlight environmental issues facing the mega-cities of today. The urban heat island effect will be tackled through the creation of green corridors and landfill will be used to create an umi no mori or “Sea Forest”—a 88-hectare forest in Tokyo Bay. All events will be situated within an 8-kilometer radius and some venues built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics will be reused, helping to promote the city’s environmental message.

Serres will see the bid through to the announcement of the successful city in October 2009.

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