Goodbye Tampa, Hello Charlotte: 5 Event PR Lessons Learned From the Campaign Trail

The Charlotte, N.C. skyline

As the Republican party's Tampa-based convention was coming to a close with Mitt Romney's much anticipated acceptance speech in Tampa, Fla., the city of Charlotte, N.C.  was already putting the finishing touches on its own PR campaign as the Democratic National convention commences there on Monday, Sept. 3.

Make no mistake, landing an event—let alone one that puts a city on the national stage—is a big deal. If all goes right and the media coverage is positive, hopefully the local economy will see a spike and convention-goers will return to the city as tourists. These benefits, however, have been found minimal, according to National Journal Daily. While officials in Tampa and Charlotte expect to rake in $200 million each from their respective events, the article reports that such figures are sometimes exaggerated and do not include expenditures (for example, Charlotte built a brand new park for its upcoming convention).

Still, good PR around such events can create positive awareness of the locale and keep event-goers happy at the same time. Here are five PR practices derived from the 2012 conventions that can be applied to just about any big event:

1. Create events around the event: Leveraging its Alive After 5 weekly happy hours, the city of Charlotte is hosting a big AA5 pre-DNC event at the EpiCentre (the place where many national broadcast crews will be based), complete with Bon Jovi cover band Slippery When Wet. On Labor Day, there’s CarolinaFest, with music provided by James Taylor and Jeff Bridges, among other performers.

2. Leverage corporate and nonprofit partnerships: The Pringles brand and Rock the Vote hosted music events in Tampa and will hold more in Charlotte.

3. Avoid the negative:
Is it Tampa’s fault that it has established itself as the strip club capital of the U.S.? In any case, a CNN “investigative” report that featured pole dancers being quoted on their expected economic windfalls probably didn’t help the city’s family tourist trade. Best to accentuate the positive, if possible.

4. Practice diversity: On Friday, August 31 Charlotte will host a DNC-approved 2-hour Islamic "Jumah" Prayers event, with 20,000 people expected to attend. In contrast, the Republican convention has been hit with controversy about its inclusion—and treatment of—African Americans.

5. Get in the Social Swing:
The Tampa Bay Downtown Partnership and more than 15 tourism and convention groups set up their own "Social Media Command Center" for the Republican convention, with 50 local experts monitoring and conversing with people online via the hashtag #tampabay. You can expect similar efforts in Charlotte.

If the event strategies and tactics above are successfully executed, perhaps organizations—and cities—will avoid a negative balance sheet. Who knows? If all goes right in Charlotte, maybe they can defy history and bring some much needed tourist dollars into town for years to come.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01