The Political Conventions: A Lesson in Media Branding

media branding tips from political conventions

Cleveland and Philadelphia learned some great lessons about hosting the recent political conventions.

In fact, this was Cleveland’s third time to host the GOP Convention since 1924. Philly has hosted roughly a dozen political conventions since 1848.

PR Newswire’s audience relations managers Christine Cube and Anna Jasinski were on site in both cities, working with journalists to get members of the media signed up for the official convention newsfeed.

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 politically-draped bus stop, red/white/blue lights in a fountain, or HD signage beaming from buildings.

The media paid attention to some of this. But, they had a job to do.

So, smart and savvy PR and communications folks put their brand into the hands of journalists.

The most popular swag 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. The Atlantic magazine also had charging stations for attendees for its panel events. Then there were the companies that gave out cell phone-charging sticks — Twitter and Cleveland Clinic come to mind.

These swag items proved to be invaluable at the conventions.

Other notable wins:

Media Row. This creative space, designed to give newsmakers a platform to cover the GOP convention, was a cozy, action-packed area that was well-stocked and thoroughly planned. Various media, from Snapchat to CNN to the Independent Journal Review, had branded work areas where they conducted live interviews, handed out swag, and shared their work space with other media attendees. Google even had a cafe. And the thing is — beneath the wall-to-wall carpeting, air-conditioned walls, and comfortable booths for TV, radio, and social media — most forgot where they were standing. It was the second floor of a parking garage.

Presidential Barbies. The group She Should Run partnered with Barbie to create President and Vice President dolls on an “all-female ticket” for the election season. The Barbies were given away at The Atlantic magazine’s headquarters at Blue Point Grille in Cleveland and the Field House in Philadelphia. The dolls were laid out just before panel events on women in politics and generated a lot of buzz.

Mock Cards Against Humanity. The Atlantic gave away free “Question This” card sets, featuring “intriguing prompts for lively conversation.” They were available at the magazine’s HQ in each city. The cards engaged event attendees and were met with high approval.

‘I Confessed.’ NBC News brought Election Confessions to both the RNC and DNC. The booth gave Republicans and Democrats a safe space to share their secret thoughts about the election — all via sticky note. The candid messages were anonymously displayed on a nearby TV for all to see. Participants received a button exclaiming “I confessed.”

Then there were the experiences.

Larger media points literally took over restaurants and event spaces, redecorating and reprogramming the spaces and offering a slew of cool activities.


Politico created a Hub in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Visitors to Politico Hub could sit down at the oxygen bar for some light rejuvenation, play video games on the Xbox stations, see a 3D printer in action, or walk up to one of the Microsoft Cognitive Services booths — 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.politico microsoft cognitive boothOther media points created similar experiences: The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Hill Newspaper, and RealClearPolitics, to name a few.

Some media points did more than others (in terms of decor, down to the presidential seating at The Washington Post, for example), but all had the same thing in mind — to give event attendees an experience that you could only have during the weeks of the conventions.presidential chairs at the Washington Post

Each space was welcoming and provided several charging stations, tables, and comfortable seating for journalists and members of the media to park and file stories. They also conveniently offered well-stocked shelves of swag for the taking, from sunglasses and plastic drinking glasses to pens, notepads, and tote bags.

At the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Facebook and Instagram teamed up to create a modern lounge-type space with a studio, couches and high-top tables, and a photo booth decorated like a miniature White House Oval Office.

The conventions provided two solid weeks of non-stop news, but the election still is heating up. Sign up now for election and political campaigns news on PR Newswire for Journalists.

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

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