by James Ogul
[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]U[/dropcap]nited States participation at Yeosu Expo 2012 got off to a slow start. As has been the case since, in 1994, Congress imposed restrictive language on the use of Federal funding for US pavilions at expos, the prospect of funding yet another pavilion entirely by donations stalled a decision to participate. Such delays add challenges and costs to the process.
This article, originally published in November 2014, is part of “Tales from the Expo,” an InPark Magazine online book written by James Ogul and edited by Judith Rubin.
Ultimately a decision was made to proceed using the public-private partnership model originally developed for Taejon Expo 1993 and used successfully at Aichi 2005 and Shanghai 2010. This model is also in place for the US Pavilion at Milan Expo 2015.
My initial role was to coordinate the RFP process, which resulted in several excellent bids. Ultimately EarthEcho International was selected as having the best proposal. The EarthEcho team was led by explorer, environmentalist, and social entrepreneur Philippe Cousteau, Jr. (Pavilion Chief Spokesperson) and his business partner Andrew Snowhite (Pavilion CEO). EarthEcho International is a nonprofit 501c3 organization founded in 2000 by siblings Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau in honor of their father Philippe Cousteau Sr., famous son of the legendary explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Its mission is to empower youth to take action that restores and protects our water planet. This made the organization a perfect fit to develop and operate the US Pavilion at Yeosu.
Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea, took place March 12, 2012 to August 12, 2012. The theme was “The Living Ocean and Coast.” 108 countries and international organizations participated and attendance was over eight million. Yeosu 2012 was what the Bureau of International Expositions, the Paris-based organization that regulates world expos, classifies as a “Recognized” event – running 3 months and occupying a smaller area as opposed to 6-month “Registered” events. At Recognized expos, the organizer provides the building to house the participants rent-free, whereas at Registered events, participants must put in more resources and often design and build their own pavilions.
It isn’t surprising that in the US, public awareness of world’s fairs has receded since Vancouver Expo 1986, the last time one was hosted in North America. Andrew Snowhite had considered expos to be “storied events of the past until in 2010,” when he learned about the Shanghai Expo held that year, and about the planned 2012 expo in Korea, whose theme was “The Living Ocean and Coast.” “This piqued my interest,” he said. “Partnering with State on a Pavilion at Yeosu could be an opportunity to combine the key elements of our professional lives: ocean education and creating environmentally-themed experiences.”
The US Department of State issued an RFP in January 2011 for an official presence at Yeosu, and Snowhite familiarized himself with the public-private business model for US pavilions. “I began to understand that it had to be funded by sponsorship, versus US government funds, and that all submissions had to be from non-profit organizations. To add to the complexity the winner was required to have its IRS non-profit status in place by the time the project was awarded, which we knew had to be a quick turnaround. This meant that only already established non-profits would be able to bid as there is simply no way a new 501(c)3 application would be processed and approved in the required timeline,” said Snowhite.
Snowhite reviewed the guidelines of the RFP with Philippe, and with themed-entertainment legend Robert L. Ward, who is best known for his work as a creative executive for Universal Studios [Ward received lifetime achievement honors from the Themed Entertainment Association a few years ago]. They saw that the project aligned with Philippe’s ocean education non-profit EarthEcho International and approached the Board for approval to bid. “After numerous discussions the Board approved us putting a team together to bid on the Pavilion, specifically due to the fact that the Department of State was to be responsible for fundraising. At that point we had done our research and learned how difficult the funding process was for Shanghai and earlier expos.”
The next step was to quickly assemble a team to respond to the RFP. Bob Ward suggested approaching Phil Hettema for exhibit design, and Mark Germyn, who had recently served as COO of the US Pavilion at Shanghai. “Phil and his team at The Hettema Group quickly helped transform our ideas into a conceptual plan with beautiful graphics, and Mark Germyn provided invaluable guidance on the operations and costs (which continued throughout the entire project),” said Snowhite. “After a few weeks of around-the-clock coordination, we had a really impressive proposal that was then laid out by a wonderful graphic designer and bound into hardcover books that included a number of
ocean-themed icons (which we continued to use in our design themes throughout the project). I was extremely proud of our response and the team’s hard work to meet the March 15th deadline. Once we submitted the proposal books we simply had to sit and wait for a response.”
Back at the State Dept., the ball was in our court. Following an exhaustive review of several proposals, EarthEcho was declared the winner of the competition. Snowhite said, “We received a letter from State the first week in May notifying us that we had been awarded the project. The team was elated but we quickly tempered our excitement when we realize the challenge in front of us. We only had 53 weeks to raise the project funds, design and construct the Pavilion and staff up the entire team. The really scary part was that most of the work needed to begin immediately, but there were no funds available and there wouldn’t be until a minimum funding amount of $7.5M was achieved.”
The State Dept. issued a letter of intent, and EarthEcho created sponsorship materials and began fundraising with strong support and involvement by Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. “This was a stressful process but made easier by the fact that I’m located in the Washington, DC, area (as is EarthEcho), which greatly facilitated a variety of meetings, lunches and events where we could tell people our story and begin to engage in sponsorship conversation,” said Snowhite. “More so, we had set a number of internal deadlines to hit our minimum funding goal, but these kept slipping through the summer as we continued to chase down dollars. I was thrilled the last Friday of July, when I was at my sister-in-law’s wedding rehearsal dinner, to receive a call from State saying they had confirmed another sponsor commitment which brought us over the minimum $7.5M amount required to formalize our agreement with State and officially get the project rolling. Those few months were extremely nerve-wracking. We had all spent so much time and effort to make the project a reality and had put ourselves at considerable risk, both professionally and financially. I’m very grateful that we all collectively stuck it out.”
The jubilation of hitting the minimum funding goal didn’t last long. Said Snowhite, “There were a few core objectives that had to be addressed before we could really get to work on the Pavilion: 1) Although sponsorship commitments were made to State, I then needed to negotiate and close each contract before we could be paid; this meant that we still wouldn’t see any cash flow for quite some time even though the team had been working out of pocket for months 2) we still needed to close our agreement with State to formalize the entire project – which took over a month – and 3) that after continuing to refine our numbers we realized the $7.5M minimum was not enough funding to create the type of experience worthy of a US Pavilion by either State’s expectations or our own, and that we needed to raise at least another $1M if not more.”
A lifeline was extended in September – some excess funds from the USA Pavilion at Shanghai 2010 became available, and the group continued to fundraise with a total project budget of just under $9.4M, most of which was received by the end of 2011. “With the agreement set with State, Philippe and I were thrilled to attend a State lunch in October 2011 honoring Korean President Lee Myung-bak, where Secretary Hillary Clinton formally announced America’s commitment to participate at the Expo,” said Snowhite. “We were also joined by executives from most of our corporate sponsors. President Lee noted it in his remarks and I heard it many times again from the Expo committee, that the Korean Government and the Expo Committee would not have considered the event a success if America didn’t participate.”
In all $9.4 million was raised to fund the 13,000 square foot pavilion. At that point, after all of the money had been pledged, the State Department signed a Participation Contract with the Expo organizers and construction began. Eleven Fortune 500 companies contributed support to make the USA Pavilion a reality. Corporate sponsors included: Chevron; Citi; Boeing; Coca-CoIa; Corning Incorporated; Hyundai Motor America; Kia Motors America; Lockheed Martin; Samsung Electronics America, Inc.; GE; and Becton, Dickinson and Company.
The design and fabrication process was compressed in order to be ready by opening day. “During the final months of 2011 the team frantically worked to get every facet of the project in place,” said Snowhite. “EarthEcho International established a nonprofit subsidiary to operate the project and the subsidiary, in turn, opened a branch in Korea as was required by Expo. We worked closely with The Hettema Group on the Pavilion story and design, began key staff hires and developed our communications messaging and positioning platforms. Through Philippe and my existing relationship with the University of Virginia, we partnered on the Student Ambassador program which we announced and launched in late fall.”
Part of the process was that the State Department required review and approval over all of the Pavilion’s content and design. “While the entire process was collaborative with wonderful feedback from the State team, I quickly found that government approvals take a lot longer than what I’m used to in start-up organizations,” said Snowhite. “Again, the fact that I happen to live in the Washington, DC area made things considerably easier, especially since I could join our weekly meetings with State in person.”
By December 2011, the design of the Pavilion was set and the Hettema team had a myriad of required Expo document ready to go, an operations plan was in place and a construction contractor had been chosen. That month, in a formal ceremony at the US Ambassador’s residence in Seoul, the US Ambassador to Korea, signed the official Participation Agreement between the US Government and the Expo Committee. “It was a special event to cap off a really wild year and I was thrilled to have experienced it with Philippe, Bob, Mark, Andy, Ambassador Kim and others from our team along with executives representing our corporate sponsors,” said Snowhite.
The end-of-year holidays passed, and “we faced a major obstacle in that Expo delayed handing over our space multiple times,” said Snowhite. “This delayed the start of construction, which was scary both from a timing and budgetary perspective. Once we took hold of the space, there were a number of issues that required fixing. However, thanks to solid planning by the Hettema team and the local contractor, we were able to quickly begin build-out. As I reflect on the overall process I’m still stunned at the quality of the experience that the Hettema team was able to put together in such a short timeframe and with such a tight budget.”
With construction finally underway in Korea, creatives in the US were working around the clock on the content. This included scripting, filming in the field (The Hettema Team worked with Mousetrappe as a media producer) and collecting footage from Pavilion partners such as Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Marine Sanctuaries and One World One Ocean. They also eagerly awaited confirmation that video messages from President Obama and Secretary Clinton would be filmed and delivered in time to integrate them into the pre-show media (they were).
USA Pavilion at Yeosu 2012 begins to take shape: interview with Robert Ward
By April 2012 the shows were set, Student Ambassadors selected and an advance team was on the ground in Yeosu. “Mark Germyn and our in-country operations expert, Andy Kim, began making sure we had everything covered locally, from uniforms to our security and housing needs,” said Snowhite.
While the Director of Protocol and Partner Relations, Nancy Scofield, worked diligently with the corporate sponsors and with the State Department to ensure the Pavilion had content for sponsor displays in the post-show area, the Hettema team hurried to put the finishing touches both on the physical aspects of the Pavilion as well as the media content. “We all found ourselves working around the clock just trying to keep it all tied together,” said Snowhite.
Snowhite expressed gratitude for “the wonderful support we received from the Mayor of Yeosu, Kim Chung-Seog, and his staff. We met the Mayor on our first trip and he was a great friend and host throughout the Expo – even hosting a thank-you lunch for our Student Ambassadors the day after closing. During our soft-opening in early May, the Mayor was the first guest of the Pavilion, wearing his signature teal sport coat that I never saw him without.”
The final days leading up to opening were extremely hectic. “The Hettema team was onsite and made some amazing last-minute tweaks to the pre-show that really enhanced the viewer experience,” said Snowhite. The Student Ambassadors arrived for orientation, practicing their front-of-house and back-of-house roles and members from State and the Embassy made presentations to ensure they all understood their roles as representatives of the United States of America. A representative of the US Green Building Council, a Pavilion partner, was onsite to advise on sustainability practices.
“Opening day, May 12, 2012 – 372 days after we were notified we were awarded the project – was one of the proudest days of my life,” said Snowhite. “The team created an amazing experience that represented America on an international stage, encouraging people-to-people diplomacy while educating them on important ocean issues. It was also one of the hardest things I have done in my life – an incredibly challenging project with a razor-thin schedule and budget. But through a truly collaborative effort by everyone involved, I’m confident we created the best experience possible.”
The Pavilion was open from 9 AM to 9 PM, seven days a week, and at any given time 13 Student Ambassadors were on duty, greeting guests in the queue line, running the preshow and main show, operating the retail shop, and escorting VIP guests.
The USA Pavilion at Yeosu Expo 2012 had five components: the queuing area, the preshow, the main show, the post show, and the VIP lounge.
At the queuing area outside the entrance to the pavilion, both Student Ambassadors and a large LED sign spelling out USA (in English and Korean) provided a welcome. Student Ambassadors made the queue their own by playing popular music, showing off their dance moves, and creating a fun atmosphere that was distinctly American. It was not uncommon to see Student Ambassadors high-fiving guests on their way in or conversing with guests and VIPs in both English and Korean (and sometimes other languages too, such as Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and even Greek).
After a live Student Ambassador welcome and introduction in English and Korean, the three-part guest experience began. The four-minute pre-show media showcased America’s ocean and coasts onto a large waterscreen and delivered greetings from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and remarks about the ocean by the Pavilion’s Chief Spokesperson Philippe Cousteau. At the conclusion of the preshow, the water screen was shut off, creating a portal for guests to pass through.
The 8-minute main show used state-of-the-art high definition projection for a film titled “This is Our Ocean.” Individual voices and stories unfolded across a massive, custom 70-foot-wide screen to convey the diverse beauty of the American coastline and Americans’ personal connections with the ocean. From New England to Miami and San Francisco to Hawaii, American cities were shown alongside a variety of coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, barrier islands, and rocky shores. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research ships and submersibles explored the depths while people were seen cleaning beaches and conducting research in laboratories both on land and underwater. It culminated with a call to action for guests and organizations worldwide to work together for a brighter future for the ocean and all who depend on its resources.
The post show area contained educational displays from USA Pavilion corporate partners, on sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives. Guests were able to take a souvenir photo with the United States flag, purchase mementos at the retail shop, and stamp their Expo passports with the USA Pavilion stamp.
The VIP lounge accommodated special guests, sponsors, partners, U.S. Embassy visitors, foreign and Korean dignitaries, and diplomats. VIP delegations were greeted at the Pavilion’s front entrance, then taken on a guided tour and invited to the lounge for refreshments, a photo opportunity, conversation, gift presentation, and a chance to sign the guest book. USA Pavilion staff and Student Ambassadors received 5,712 VIP visitors to the Pavilion during the 93 days of the Expo, interacting with a variety of individuals from all over the world.
Beyond the Pavilion
Digital manifestations of the USA Pavilion engaged visitors beyond their time in the physical space. For guests with smartphones, QR codes placed throughout the USA Pavilion queue and post-show area gave instant access to 167 web pages of information as well as access to the Korean-language Smithsonian Amazing Ocean app. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media interaction made it possible for people everywhere to experience the USA Pavilion remotely.
USA National Day
On July 4, the USA Pavilion celebrated its National Day with a public ceremony, cultural performances, and a reception for invited guests. A Presidential Delegation was led by NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and included Ambassador Sung Kim; Wendy S. Cutler, Assistant United States Trade Representative for Japan, Korea and APEC Affairs; Adam Ereli, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau at Educational and Cultural Affairs; and Daniel Dae Kim, Honorary United States Cultural Ambassador to the 2012 World Expo.
During the ceremony, remarks were given by Dr. Lubchenco, Ambassador Kim, and USA Pavilion Chief Spokesperson Philippe Cousteau with introductions in both English and Korean by the Pavilion’s Student Ambassadors. Additionally, cultural performances by the 8th Army Band and the Harvard University a cappella group Krokodiloes entertained the crowd and displayed America’s Independence Day pride.
The Student Ambassador Program brought 40 American college students to Yeosu to serve as volunteers and national representatives at the United States.
During the three-month span of the Expo, Student Ambassadors participated in a variety of in-reach and outreach programs. These programs were developed in order to foster Student Ambassador interest in foreign affairs and Korean culture, and to engage those in the Korean community in positive people to people diplomacy efforts related to the American spirit of volunteerism and USA Pavilion and Expo themes.
The Student Ambassadors engaged in a wide range of community activities, including beach cleanups and school visits, teaching English classes, participating in international policy discussions, and leading workshops to prepare students planning to study abroad in the United States. These USA Pavilion outreach programs engaged thousands of Korean citizens outside of the Expo 2012 grounds.
The 40 Student Ambassadors represented 19 states and the District of Columbia and 31 universities. In partnership with the University of Virginia, the Student Ambassadors also were able to participate in a program to receive college credit through the University of Virginia’s course entitled “Making Culture Visible While Studying Abroad.”
In the words of Commissioner Sung Y. Kim, “The USA Pavilion also drew on the exuberance of our young Student Ambassadors, who engaged with Koreans on many fronts in the Korean Language. The involvement of American Student Ambassadors at the USA Pavilion and in public service in neighboring communities served as a testament to the strong people to people ties between our two countries. Their presence demonstrated the U.S. determination to safeguard our ocean resources for future generations.”
Beginning with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announcing the United States’ official participation in International Expo 2012 to the U.S. Presidential Delegation that visited the Expo for USA National Day and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Sung Kim hosting senior Korean government representatives, the USA Pavilion demonstrated America’s commitment to the success of the Expo and was a reflection of our two countries’ close bilateral relations.
More than one million visitors from Korea and around the world experienced the USA Pavilion’s story of hope and community. The USA Pavilion also hosted more than 480 VIP delegations and special guests from a broad range of countries and international organizations.
Through the unifying themes of “Diversity, Wonder, and Solutions,” the USA Pavilion experience highlighted the challenges facing the ocean and all Earth’s creatures, which are dependent on its resources. Equally as important was the Pavilion’s focus on opportunities for collaborations worldwide that inspire hope for a brighter future. The Pavilion also showcased the diversity of America, its people, and its environment.
Strategic outreach to international, regional, and Korean media drove awareness of the USA Pavilion to millions of people. A robust website (www.pavilion2012.org) with daily engaging content and a locus on social media extended the USA Pavilion experience into the homes and lives of individuals around the world. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State leveraged its social media platforms and the U.S. Embassy Seoul’s website.
As US Pavilion Commissioner Sung Y. Kim stated in the Yeosu US Pavilion’s final report, “By all measures, United States participation in the 2012 international Expo in Yeosu, Korea was an unqualified success. First and foremost, the United States’ involvement in Expo 2012 demonstrated the strong relationship between our country and the Republic of Korea as well as our commitments the East Asia Pacific region. Signing the Agreement of the United States to participate in Expo 2012 was my first pubic act as the US Ambassador to Korea and reflected the importance that I, and the American government, placed on this exhibition.”
Andrew Snowhite summarized: “Over the three month operating period we welcomed almost 1.1M guests. I was in the Pavilion almost every day, greeting VIPs, managing the overall business and helping to ensure we maintained a welcoming guest experience. I’m not sure how many times I saw our pre-show and main-show films, but each time I did I watched in amazement as our guests took in the experience, often repeating our mantra ‘This is Our Ocean.’ Furthermore, from an organizational perspective, the entire EarthEcho team and its Board of Directors were thrilled to have had the opportunity to partner with the Department of State on the Pavilion, and to continue to build upon its mission of empowering young people to preserve and protect our water planet.”
Snowhite added, “I still get chills thinking about the elder Korean men I would meet who had served in the Korean War. Even though some of them didn’t speak English, through a strong embrace or the locking of eyes I could feel their gratitude toward America and the strong bond we have built with Korea over the last 60 years.”
The Student Ambassadors gained visibly from the experience. “Many of them started off shy, especially when welcoming guests in Korean before the start of the pre-show,” said Snowhite. “However, by the end of the Expo they were all very confident in their public speaking and directly and enthusiastically engaged our guests. More so, they fully embraced the opportunity, traveling around Korea, forming new bonds of friendship and volunteering in the community (oftentimes on their own accord). I have greatly enjoyed tracking the Student Ambassadors’ progress since the close of the Expo and frequently still see and talk to them – especially those who now live in the Washington, DC, area. I have even heard chatter about some of them wanting to learn Italian as they long to relive the Expo experience again in Milan!”
A short video overview of the USA Pavilion at Expo 2012 can be viewed online HERE.