Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

November 2012

When Elephants and Donkeys Meet

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor and Molly Brennan, Contributing Editor
stage at the Forum provided a space for speakers to update their social-media channels, conduct interviews via Skype, or hold a Google Hangout with constituents. “We did more than 30 Google Hangouts,” Davis said, “and that’s something that literally wasn't possible four years ago.”

The COA and the Host Committee also jointly released a mobile app that gave users the ability to watch live convention coverage and share their experiences via social-media networks. The app also contained maps, weather updates (especially relevant as Hurricane Isaac approached Florida), and tourist information about Tampa.

At the heart of the COA’s digital strategy was a customized YouTube channel that live-streamed (and cataloged) all the convention speeches. It also hosted the video pieces and non-primetime speakers the TV audience didn't see, as well as a number of “Convention Insider” videos. From the YouTube channel, viewers could share videos to other social-media platforms, and post comments to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

“In the past, people have focused on driving numbers and viewers to their website, but the people consumed the information and left,” Davis said. “We said, ‘What if we used that same information, but we made it dynamic and incorporated it into a very social platform?’ We created this YouTube page that houses all this information, there’s a lot of video, a lot of images that support the message, and it’s a place to bring conversations all into one place.”

With more than 300,000 hours of streaming video viewed over the course of the three-day convention, more than five million total video views (at last count), and more than four million tweets, Davis said the digital strategy proved to be more than successful.

Packaging the Message

In addition to exploring new distribution channels for its convention message, the COA invested heavily in the packaging of that message. For that, it turned to former network news executive Phil Alongi, who was brought on in 2011 as executive producer of the 2012 RNC.

Alongi, who spoke with Convene while en route to his home in New Jersey after eight months in Tampa, said that the COA was seeking someone who could craft a compelling program with an insider’s eye. “When I was approached by the COA about coming to work on the project, they visualized that I would bring the perspective of someone who’s been on the other side,” he said. “Having covered every convention going back to 1980, they wanted me to think about what I would like and what would appeal to me as a producer of the nightly news.”

Wearing those two hats - insider and outsider - Alongi worked with the COA and Freeman on everything from camera sight lines to packaged pieces and timing. One of the most important and earliest tasks was the stage design. “The COA was looking for tradition, but also something progressive,” Alongi said. “We knew we wanted to make it inviting, but also something that would stand out. We came up with the idea of combining the warm wood, which is very Americana, with all the video screens, which are very progressive and high-tech.”

The design theme was “America’s living room,” and merged traditional American Prairie style with modern technology. Different versions of the stage were drawn over the winter, and once Romney became the presumptive nominee, the designs were presented to his campaign. They chose the boldest one. “I applaud both the COA and the campaign for being very open and progressive,” Alongi said. “As we presented various options to them, they would say, ‘These are all great, but what if we wanted to do something really different and really out there?’”

In the end, the stage, which was estimated to cost $2.5 million, didn't look like any past convention stage - and that was exactly the idea. “As people were switching channels or scrolling through apps and they came upon this program that had a completely contemporary look, they might say, ‘Oh, “American Idol” is on,’ and you get their attention for a moment,” Algoni said. “By combining tradition and modern, we didn't lose the traditionalists, and we hopefully brought some new people aboard.”

Throughout the convention, the video screens at the back of the stage were used to adjust the backdrop and mood to fit each speaker. All 13 screens - the largest of which was nearly 400 square feet - could be used to form an unbroken, panoramic image; they were also used individually to create a collage effect. Rather than distracting viewers from the message, they served to reinforce it. “Regardless of the event, people in the room need to be embraced and they need to feel a part of it,” Algoni said. “By design, the stage embraced them and the video screens made them feel a part of what was happening on the stage.”

Indeed, with so much of the conversation taking place online and via video, not to mention with broadcast coverage increasingly curtailed and the first day of the four-day event canceled due to Hurricane Isaac (with seemingly minimal impact on the production), it makes you wonder if the political convention of the future might involve a live event on a much smaller scale. Lane, who has worked on the past seven GOP conventions, doesn't think so. “Going forward, I think we’ll adapt to whatever the latest technology is, and we’ll keep pushing ahead on that front,” he said. “But political conventions truly are a part of our democratic way of government and how our country is run. I think the tradition of having the convention with the delegates on the floor casting their votes for the nominee - I don’t see that changing.”
Sidebar: Host City: ‘So They Keep Coming Back’
The whole world may not have been watching, but a good many people did tune into the 2012 Republican National Convention (RNC). And the host city made sure to capitalize on its moment in the spotlight. “Our goal was not just to capture their attention while they were here,” said Matt Becker, chief operating officer of the Tampa Bay Host Committee, “but to draw them in so they keep coming back.”

A coordinated marketing plan
Early in 2012, 15 community and economic development organizations came together to jointly develop a 14-point marketing and promotion plan, which included hiring a PR firm to create four Tampa Bay–related pitches for national media. It also included a national media buy, targeted to the in-flight magazines of US Airways and Southwest Airlines, the two carriers that would be ferrying the most convention-related visitors to Tampa Bay.

Additional efforts included hosting national media site visits and client familiarization tours for meeting planners. “Everything was sequenced to build brand awareness and excitement about the Tampa Bay area,” said Kelly Miller, president and CEO of Tampa Bay & Company.

Tampa Bay as a business center One of the biggest departures from past marketing by political-convention host cities was Tampa Bay’s focus on the region as a place to start or relocate a business. To reach - and woo - the many CEOs in Tampa for the 2012 RNC, the Host Committee partnered with business-news giant Bloomberg on an Economic Development Series that addressed topics such as international trade and featured such high-profile panelists as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Partnership, a CEO-led regional economic development organization, unveiled “Front Row Tampa Bay,” a live web-TV program that showcased

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