Beyond PR

Aug 05, 2016

Event Marketing Lessons from the Republican and Democratic National Conventions


It’s easy to view the recent Republican and Democratic national conventions as a showcase for the parties’ presidential nominees. However, while the primary focus was to nominate their candidates, the conventions’ other elements closely mirrored more traditional industry events and conferences.

In How to Manage Media Relations at a High-Profile Event, my convention partner-in-crime Anna Jasinski shared media relations tips from #RNCinCLE and #DemsinPhilly.

PR pros aren’t the only ones, though, who can learn something from the political conventions. There were just as many lessons for event marketers.

As Anna and I worked with journalists to get members of the media signed up for the official convention newsfeed, we were struck by how each city expertly was shrink-wrapped in Republican and Democratic national convention material.

You couldn’t walk half a block without seeing some reminder the conventions were in town — whether it was a banner, a mural, a bus stop, the bus itself, red/white/blue lights in a fountain, or HD signage beaming from buildings.

When planning your on-site marketing for the next event you attend or host, take inspiration from these examples.

Hand out swag with swagger.

Everyone knows that event giveaways are a must. The challenge is in giving away swag that stands out.

Anticipate attendees’ needs. The most popular item during the RNC and DNC was the power stick. That’s because no matter where journalists were, power was hard to come by and mobile electronics only had so much battery life.

Companies like AT&T parked complimentary charging stations in strategic locations around the conventions, and Twitter and Cleveland Clinic were among the organizations that gave out cell phone-charging sticks.

These proved to be invaluable, which is the impression you want to leave when building relationships with event-goers.

Two other pieces of memorable swag could be found at The Atlantic magazine’s convention HQs.

In addition to offering charging stations for attendees of their panel events, The Atlantic engaged guests with mock Cards Against Humanity playing cards. While these were met with high approval, the “most coveted swag” award went to the all-female-ticket Barbies.

These were given out at both conventions during The Atlantic’s “Pathways to Power: An Atlantic Forum on Women in Politics.” The group She Should Run partnered with Barbie to create President and Vice President dolls for these panels.


Host smaller events during convention downtime.

With many of the high-profile events not starting until the evening, media organizations and brands used the days to make their mark with panels, breakfasts and other events.

In Philadelphia, we started the morning of Day 4 with RealClearPolitics’ panel “The State of the Race,” featuring Margie Omero, executive vice president with Penn Schoen Berland; Anna Greenberg, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner; Sean Trende, senior political analyst at RealClearPolitics; Greg Strimple, with GS Strategy Group; and Ed Goeas, president/CEO of The Tarrance Group.

And then we popped into the POLITICO Hub to catch a panel discussion on “Diversity or Disconnect? The Future of the Democratic Party,” featuring Joel Benenson, chief strategist for Hillary for America. Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Matt Wuerker also was live-drawing on-site.

At the Republican National Convention, Anna and I attended the Road to the White House, hosted by The Atlantic at Blue Point Grille in Cleveland. The panel included John Brabender, chief creative officer with Brabender Cox; Sara Fagen, partner with DDC; Mike DuHaime, partner with Mercury; Mike Murphy, Republican political consultant; Ron Brownstein, senior editor with The Atlantic; and Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent with CBS News.

It was also an honor to see one of the nation’s top political reporters, Bob Schieffer, who sat down for a live interview with CBS Radio News.

These weren’t just educational and entertaining, they also proved to be excellent networking opportunities.

Consider how you can maximize attendees’ experience by rounding out their schedule.


Give attendees a break.

At some point, event-goers will be tired of going, going, going. Offer them an oasis amidst the activity.

At the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Facebook and Instagram created a modern lounge-type space with a studio, bar and tables, and a photo booth decorated like a miniature White House Oval Office.

Many of the larger media points also took over restaurants and prominent event spaces by redecorating and reprogramming them and offering a slew of cool activities.

For instance, visitors to Politico Hub in Cleveland and Philadelphia could sit down at the oxygen bar for some light rejuvenation, play video games on the Xbox stations, or walk up to one of the Microsoft Cognitive Services booths to find out What Dog Are You? or How Old Are You? (I’m happy to report, I appeared 10 years younger!).

Couches, computer stations, long tables and seating filled other areas. Then there was a large studio in another part of the space. No matter where you sat, you could see and hear what was taking place, in terms of interviews and panel discussions, or watch one of the big-screen TVs and catch the live session of the convention.


Jump into the conversation.

What about if you’re a local business, whose city has been taken over by an event? Get in on the action!

We saw many neighborhood businesses who creatively adapted their signage and branding for the event. Clever chalkboard tents and window decorations drew eyes and foot traffic.

If you can’t get people to come to you, go to them. On the final day of the Republican National Convention, Media Row was buzzing as reporters scrambled to complete coverage and interviews ahead of the evening’s acceptance speech.

Thankfully, the nice folks at Mitchell’s Ice Cream (a Cleveland staple) saved the day with free treats for all. About 520 scoops were consumed by journalists in just a little over an hour.

The event marketing tactics that stood out at both conventions coupled creativity with a keen sense of what audiences wanted. This approach not only attracted the attention of event-goers, it also helped many organizations earn media coverage.

Learn how to identify other unique ways to earn media coverage by downloading our white paper Redefining Newsworthiness: New Opportunities to Earn Media & Attention for Your Brand. This free guide walks through how to reassess your brand’s story, expand your definition of newsworthiness and map out a multichannel marketing plan to ensure the messaging you develop is seen.

Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at @cpcube or check out her latest on the Beyond Bylines blog.

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