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Written by Peter Carter

September 5, 2014

With just two months until Brisbane’s biggest ever event is staged before a global media audience, the city’s PR machine is at maximum output, working to capitalize on the economic benefits worldwide exposure can bring.

In the biggest international exercise held in Australia since the Sydney Olympics, US President Barack Obama, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron will be among 26 world leaders visiting Brisbane to discuss global economic issues.

Mostly unknown as a destination outside Australia, the G20 event is a “once in a generation opportunity” to dial up the city’s international recognition factor by more than 100 times. So says Brisbane Marketing, the city’s “economic development” brains-trust that has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the world’s media sends in their A-teams and that once here, there are plenty of good news stories to tell.

Leaders, delegates and media representatives on the ground in the city – expected to number 7,000 – will include a large proportion of the 500 most influential people on the planet. The last thing the PR machine wants is an unpredictable journalist – with nothing to do for a day or two before the summit starts barring a boat trip to Lone Pine – penning an unflattering portrait of a dull city.

The city’s campaign began immediately after the 2013 St Petersburg summit ended when it launched a bold billboard promotion at international airports featuring “Brisbane 2014” under a highly recognizable photograph of those assembled world leaders.

To capture the attention of U.K. and European newspaper publishers perhaps tempted to take their coverage of the event from an affiliate, news opportunities relating to other aspects of Queensland lifestyle have been pitched: art, industry, lifestyle, education, wildlife and food have all played a role.

By dishing up an endless menu of interesting stuff – so the theory goes – the chance of a story surfacing about mandatory jail for badged bikers or the city’s atrocious cruise terminal facilities, is greatly diminished.

The future gains in tourism and long term investment are expected to be many times the immediate $100 million upsurge in trade for local shops, hotels, and restaurants – if BM can pull off its audacious plan.

Former host city experience shows that those destinations to reap the greatest sustained success are those that were able to capture a high degree local resident enthusiasm. This, so say the studies, built a positive and energetic atmosphere for the visitors, notably among notoriously hard-to-impress international journalists.

That’s why the city is throwing a party – the “G20 Cultural Celebrations” – from 24 October to 16 November 2014, as an antidote to local negativity that might rub off on to the visiting glitterati. According to the blurbs, Brisbane city “and surrounding suburbs will come alive for a world-class celebration of arts, culture and sport.”

The program is touted to include music in local parks and pubs, dance events, street performance, art, film and “the lighting of the city in extraordinary ways”. Brisbane is after all “Australia’s New World City” so it has even created a very new world distraction for the most petulant wordsmith, in the form of the “Brisbane Global Café”.

Not a café at all, it’s rather “an international hub of thought leaders to spark online discussion,” ie a virtual think tank. Leaders in their field will address key themes – Improving Human Life; Powering Future Economies; Disruption – Technology & Industry; Tourism’s New Frontiers; Cities of the Future, over five separate sessions on two days before the summit begins.

Those two days represent the period of peak boredom for our world-weary scribes where the greatest potential lies for uncomplimentary comparisons to Birmingham, Boise or Bratislava. Hence the “café” distraction.

That we don’t have international thought leaders dropping by on a regular basis will hopefully be lost on them, as the newsmen and women wire in their gushing reviews to ever grateful editors back home.

What might go wrong?

The biggest downer would be if Barack Obama (possible) or Vladimir Putin (more likely) do not show up at all. A 1984 L.A. Olympics style snub from the Russians is certainly on the cards. As we always do in Brisbane, we also have to hope the weather holds. Although an afternoon hailstorm will offer an exhilarating segue for every TV puff piece broadcaster.

But most importantly, there must not be a sniff of a bad oyster nor a lumpy pillow within reach, for any of our luminary overseas correspondents.

Categories: G20 , Opinonian

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