- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Companies are setting aside political preferences to put their names in front of thousands of influential leaders, reporters and consumers at the 2004 Republican National Convention next week at Madison Square Garden.

Conventiongoers will be blitzed with corporate sponsorships and marketing gimmicks like Kraft’s elephant-and-star-shaped Macaroni & Cheese, General Motors’ hybrid buses and the chirping of Nextel’s walkie-talkie feature on phones used by convention organizers.

“It’s tremendous exposure for them,” said Dawn Lerman, assistant professor of marketing at Fordham University. “Companies can use that exposure to help support their brand image or their company image.”

That exposure is intended to hit the 50,000 visitors who are expected to come to New York from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 for the convention and could even reach the television viewing audience.

Anheuser-Busch, for instance, had a massive sign at the FleetCenter welcoming the Democratic National Convention to Boston last month. The sign was seen by millions of viewers when it was aired in the background of television shots. The beer giant plans to customize existing signage near Madison Square Garden.

Companies — both big and small — are usually present at both conventions hoping for the same results: more sales, new clients and permanent customers.

Nextel Communications Inc., the official wireless service provider for both conventions, will donate thousands of wireless phones equipped with Direct Connect, Nextel’s walkie-talkie feature, and Blackberry devices for convention organizers.

“This is an opportunity for [people] to witness and use Nextel,” said Tim O’Regan, a Nextel spokesman. “We’re incredibly proud of this. It shows they have a great deal of trust and confidence in our products and services.”

Officials for the Host Committee for the Republican National Convention did not return phone calls for comment.

General Motors, the official transportation provider for the convention, will supply organizers with about 200 vehicles — from Cadillacs to Chevy Suburbans. In addition, America’s largest automaker will lend five to eight hybrid buses to shuttle people around the city, as well as several hybrid pickup trucks.

“This is a great opportunity to market our vehicles,” said Chris Preuss, a spokesman for General Motors, which has been supplying vehicles for both conventions since 1980.

It’s also a way to showcase General Motors’ technology and educate policy-makers, he said.

BellSouth Corp. is sponsoring the media hospitality area at the convention, as it did at the Democratic National Convention.

The 500-square-foot space, which will offer foods such as hot dogs, pizza and hamburgers, will be tucked into the basement of the Farley Post Office Building, across the street from Madison Square Garden. The building serves as the work center for the more than 15,000 journalists who will cover the convention.

The sponsorship gives BellSouth officials the chance to meet reporters in person and puts the company in touch with other conventiongoers.

“We get to meet political reporters who might cover telecommunications someday,” spokesman Bill McCloskey said. “This is a gathering place of an awful lot of people who are important to our future.”

It’s also a chance for smaller companies to make a name for themselves.

The Map Network, which provides customized maps for cities and events, was named the official map provider for both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

The D.C. company has produced 50,000 printed maps that include convention information, an online version of the map and 50,000 more maps that feature deals and discounts at 430 businesses around New York.

Shane Green, president and chief executive officer of the Map Network, says the convention business is a chance to show potential clients what his 15-person company can do.

“What trade show or event can tell us we’re not qualified” after seeing the intricate convention maps, he said. “This has a lot of value for us.”

Some corporate marketing is more creative than others.

Kraft’s 30,000 keepsake Macaroni & Cheese boxes are distributed in convention gift bags with a variety of other products including Altoids in a commemorative box. Kraft, which has been supplying the special macaroni and cheese boxes at both conventions since 1996, distributed donkey-and-star-shaped pasta at the Democratic National Convention.

“It’s great exposure,” said Alyssa Burns, senior manager of communications for Kraft. “It’s fun and it’s a nonpartisan initiative.”

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