GOP Convention: A Marketing Director’s Dream

July 29, 2008

(Editor’s note: This column is reprinted with permission from The original is at

 It’s a tough job facing Erin Dady, St. Paul’s director of convention planning. A worldwide spotlight on her city during the Republican National Convention, round-the-clock TV coverage and armies of protesters: that’s the easy part.

The challenge begins when the last shred of confetti is swept up and the last hungover delegate climbs on the plane. Can the city use the convention as a springboard for future efforts at promoting itself, or will St. Paul revert to its historic status as the quiet sibling of Minneapolis? Not surprisingly, Dady says the convention, and the attention it brings to St. Paul, will do nothing but good.

“This is a marketing director’s dream, a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Dady, who has spent 2½ years immersed in convention planning. “This is like winning the lottery for us.”

Atlanta used its experience hosting the Democratic National Convention in 1988 to win the 1996 Summer Olympics, she said. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley told St. Paul organizers that his city wouldn’t be the U.S. finalist to host the 2016 Summer Olympics if it didn’t have the 1996 DNC under its belt.

Although there don’t seem to be any plans afoot to launch a Twin Cities Olympic bid, Dady notes that other hosts of the national political conventions typically have seen a surge in normal business convention traffic.

“There’s no doubt this is good for St. Paul’s resume,” she said. “When the dentists and pork producers are deciding where to have their next convention, we can say, ‘We hosted the biggest convention there is. We can successfully host yours.’ ”
With 15,000 media members expected, St. Paul– along with Minneapolis and the rest of the state– will get plenty of time in the spotlight. (Minneapolis is co-hosting the event, and officials from both the city and Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, have been heavily involved in planning.) All the major broadcast and cable TV networks will be airing live from venues in and around St. Paul; others, such as Comedy Central’s “Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” will also be here all week.

To put that media number in perspective: Media members will outnumber the roughly 4,000 convention delegates and alternates by nearly 4-to-1. The Super Bowl, usually held up as the nation’s premier media circus, draws about 3,000 members of the press.

But what comes next? Dady lists several convention-related initiatives she called “investments in our community we’ve made that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

They include downtown beautification; a pilot project aimed at promoting green, sustainable large gatherings; and the “Red Carpet Retail Initiative,” which offers low-cost, short-term leases to retailers in hopes of enticing them to downtown St. Paul.

The city also plans to wrap its skyways in ads during the convention and use the revenue to buy touchscreen navigation kiosks for St. Paul’s sometimes bewildering skyway system.

Rather small-bore items compared to the convention hoopla– but then, what wouldn’t be? And there’s always the possibility that bringing in thousands of businesspeople might prompt some of them to do business here.

In 1892, the last time Minnesota hosted a national political convention, some of the delegates to the Republican gathering in Minneapolis got wind of new iron ore discoveries in northern Minnesota. Among them was Pittsburgh industrialist Henry W. Oliver, who hopped a train to Duluth, rented a horse and headed into the wilderness to check out the Mesabi Range. Oliver bought up a fistful of mining leases and enlisted financial support from steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, then one of the richest men in the world.

The 1892 Republican convention was held in the second week of June. The first Mesabi Range ore was shipped from Duluth in the third week of October.