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Spin doctor with a major story to tell

Mere mortals can get an idea of the developing magnitude of next year's Expo in Shanghai from the emerging figures. They help to paint a picture of the massive event's complexity and the colossus it is to become.

The overall budget totals 28.6 billion yuan (US$4.19 billion), broken down into 18 billion yuan for construction and 10.6 billion yuan for operating expenses. The state and local government will jointly spend 7.15 billion yuan, which is almost 40 percent of the total investment.

The site, on two sides of the Huangpu River is 5.28 square kilometers, twice the size of a country like Monaco and 20 times the size of the latest Expo in Zaragoza. More than 10,000 construction workers are currently working on the site.

Seventy million visitors are expected over the event's six months duration. There will be a total of 150,000 square meters of catering areas to serve the 400,000 visitors expected every day. Staff to run the site and pavilions is expected to be 200,000 a day.

It's already quite a story and the audience that should hear it is not only in China. That's why you can spare a thought for the man on the ground whose job is to spin all these facts and figures and the thousands of permutations of them and their attenuate angles into bite-size tangibles for international consumption.

Antoine Bourdeix, a 30-something French national, is the lead man in China for the company Publicis Consultants which won an international tender for the Expo public relations contract.

"The job involves advising the Expo bureau on general and overseas communication and working in key markets building media relations and monitoring who's saying what and where," he said this week.

A graduate of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Bourdeix earned a postgraduate degree in Political Science in the Netherlands and another in Communication Strategy in France.

His experience with Publicis Consultants since joining the company in 2000 has involved working on international press relations for institutions the World Bank and World Economic Forum and likewise for companies Cathay Pacific, Arcelor, Bel Group and Mo"t & Chandon.

He handled promotion for the European Central Bank's introduction of the euro currency banknotes and coins in 2002.

His China experience started in 2002 in preparation for a two-way Sino-French "cultural years" program which involved him coordinating press relations through to 2005 for the "Year of China in France" followed by the "Year of France in China." He arrived in China in 2004 and, in 2007, was appointed Publicis Consultants' chief representative.

"The (Sino-French program) was a vast two-way cultural exchange that involved more than 300 events in both countries. To manage the communications program, I worked within the French embassy in Beijing," he said.

"The year of China in France involved more than 300 events, including lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red and a Chinese New Year celebration on the Champs Elysees. For the year of France in China, there were a similar number of events with the highlights being a Jean Michelle Jarre concert at the Forbidden City and a touring Impressionists exhibition."

Impressive events, indeed, and a thorough introduction for him to China and France's long involvement in the Middle Kingdom, particularly Shanghai where Gallic culture is so evident.

Life is not all about champagne -- for Moet Chandon he managed the lighting up of the State of Liberty -- and culture for Bourdeix, however, as the public relations business also throws up disasters that need to be "spun" the right way. He has worked on several crisis communications cases for French and international clients, including Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific during SARS.

Bourdeix has comfortably segued into the mammoth Expo task at hand. "With the pitch, the call for tender, I started working on Shanghai Expo from the beginning of 2008 and will continue through to the end," he said.

"It's a big scale project so we have set up -- as we always do for these kind of projects -- an around-the-clock organization with core teams in China, the United States, France and Central Europe.

"Compared with other projects I have worked on, Shanghai Expo is different because it is a single event that lasts six months, while all the others were one shots or a series of events," he added.

"It's also different because of its scale, involving a projected 70 million visitors and a temporary city built in a few years that will be twice bigger than Monaco."

Publicis is the third-largest communication group in the world and is headquartered in Paris which is also home to the International Exhibitions Bureau, the organization charged with monitoring the frequency and quality of world expos.

"We worked for many cities, including Shanghai and Yeosu (the next international Expo in 2012), in their bidding for Expos as the bid and decision takes place in France," he said.

"So we know very well the principles of expos. It is not our French background that is important but more the international one," he said. And that's what the Shanghai Expo managers are counting on.


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