ANALYSIS: Convention PR - GOP takes message to the streets of Philly. This summer’s political conventions should contain all the suspense of an Iraqi political election, but they are media circuses nonetheless. Steve Lilienthal checks in with the

Ask Leslie Goodman about her life these past few weeks and she admits: ’It’s long nights, little sleep and lots of stomach aches.’

Ask Leslie Goodman about her life these past few weeks and she admits: ’It’s long nights, little sleep and lots of stomach aches.’

Ask Leslie Goodman about her life these past few weeks and she

admits: ’It’s long nights, little sleep and lots of stomach aches.’

Not that she’s complaining. As communications director and spokesperson

for the 2000 Republican National Convention, which opens next week in

Philadelphia, the stresses that come with Goodman’s job will not be the

ones that afflicted PR pros at past conventions. There’ll be no

party-fracturing speeches (a la Pat Buchanan in 1992) or 3 a.m.

acceptance speeches like George McGovern’s at the raucous 1972

Democratic convention.

This convention is a real opportunity to present a GOP message of unity

to the country, with 15,000 members of the news media watching. ’It

(along with the Democratic convention) is the largest media gathering of

the presidential campaign,’ convention press secretary Tim Fitzpatrick


But the delivery sources are changing: cable and local affiliates will

play a greater role as will the Internet, while the major TV networks

will play less.

Goodman and her staff are constantly taking media calls. The news media,

including online outlets, is exhibiting interest in the convention even

though the networks are giving them short shrift during prime time.

’There’s no excitement,’ insists Catholic University political science

professor John Kenneth White. ’Particularly if it goes according to


The fault lies less with convention planners than with a primary process

that settles contests well before the conventions are held. ’Conventions

are becoming a show for TV and the candidate. It’s been coming for some

time,’ adds White. Goodman has a different take: ’It depends on what

your definition of drama is.’ She maintains the convention’s goal ’is to

try to focus on serious business, but also to assure that the convention

is entertaining and a reflection of who we are and what we stand for.

But we are not trying to compete with Monday Night Football or


The last real GOP convention fight took place in 1976. Since then, the

conventions have been scripted affairs and any fighting that took place

was over the parties’ policies. But divisiveness is expected to be

largely absent at this convention, whose theme is: ’Renewing America’s

Purpose. Together.’

When convention co-chairman Andrew Card was announcing its themes in a

conference call to reporters, he insisted, ’This convention will have a

look, feel and sound that is different from conventions of the past. We

have a different kind of Republican running for president.’

A year in the making

The convention’s PR operation started over a year ago when Fitzpatrick

came over from the Republican National Committee. Early PR efforts

concentrated on news media in the host city. After the primaries, the

Bush campaign began taking a large role in the planning. In some recent

GOP conventions, the campaign staff and convention planners started

coordinating rather late in the game. Nels Olson, managing director at

Korn/Ferry International and director of master scheduling, calls this

one well coordinated so far.

Goodman, a high-ranking communications aide in the administrations of

President Bush and former California governor Pete Wilson, arrived last

month to take over an operation that includes support for local and

network TV, print media, online media and scheduling interviews by GOP

and Bush surrogates. Fitzpatrick notes, ’We want to create as many

presentation opportunities for the nominee and surrogates (as

possible).’ PR and business professionals have been recruited to help

run the various communications operations.

Brian Jones, the Bush campaign’s communications manager, had been in

Philadelphia since mid-April setting up the communications


Jones oversaw construction of a sophisticated broadcast studio for the

Bush campaign to give it greater control over message delivery. As a

former Fox News executive, he says, ’I tried to bring that same

philosophy here.’ The convention will also be highly visual, dotted with

filmed presentations from Russ Schriefer of Stevens & Schriefer, who is

leading the media production team. He has been touring the country

filming projects and people who exemplify the ’compassionate

conservatism’ that Bush espouses.

Jones downplays the convention’s role in image making, saying the

convention’s themes reflect the consistency of the governor’s campaign

messages. ’We didn’t have to reinvent a new message,’ he says. But

consultants including Schriefer and pollster Fred Steeper have been

shaping that message for months now.

Card and other GOP convention strategists insist that differences with

VP Al Gore will be pointed out, but this will not be an ’attack’


There will be no keynote speech, traditionally the speech that takes the

fight to the opposition. One Bush strategist insists that the GOP base

is united already around a dislike of the Clinton-Gore


’Do we really need to pour gasoline on that fire?’ he asks, arguing that

’the center’ is where the election will be won.

Each night has its theme and specific topics to examine, such as health

care, education, national security and the economy. The final day

culminates in the presentation of a video biography of Bush and the

nominee’s acceptance speech.

The same care in packaging the message is also being taken in its


’There will be a steady drumbeat of information. We want the excitement

to build,’ says Goodman of the 16-day media plan. ’There’s too much

information to cram into four days.’

Bush will be visiting key swing states on his way to the convention, and

plans call for similar news-making jaunts after the convention ends to

keep the ticket in the news. How much ’bounce’ in the polls the

convention will deliver to Bush is uncertain, but the Bush strategist,

for one, downplays high expectations. Bush is expected to announce his

running mate this week, but he has said he might wait until the


Taking it to the Net

Those who argue that the convention will provide nothing new should look

at how information will be delivered. This will not be the first

convention covered by online news outlets, but at the 1996 convention,

accommodating them was really an afterthought. This time, Internet media

teams will enjoy 10,000 square feet of space, which does not include the

space used by conventional media that also have Web operations.

The convention’s Web site, developed by Philadelphia-based Tierney

Communications, seeks to involve people through a dot-com delegate

program that offers daily reports, news updates and special floor views.

Don Upson, self-proclaimed ’e-convention manager,’ thinks the Internet

will be driving greater changes in the future. Upson, who is Virginia’s

secretary of technology, says convention planners will be paying close

attention to the site’s usage patterns for future planning. So even if

this convention strikes critics as a largely pre-packaged event, in

Upson’s view it may be a pivotal event: ’What happens at this convention

could change the future of all conventions.’


Communications director: Leslie Goodman

Deputy director of communications: Kris Seeger

Director of network support: Alixe Glen Mattingly

Director of non-network/affiliate support: Marilyn Fancher

Director of new media: Don Upson

Director of master scheduling: Nels Olson

Press secretary: Tim Fitzpatrick.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in