2012 Republican National Convention: A Colossal Undertaking

The 2012 Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa, Florida, August 27-30. The Tampa Bay Times Forum [JD1] will serve as the convention venue, and the Tampa Convention Center will be used for the Media Workspace.

What goes into planning a colossal event like the 2012 Republican National Convention – the Grand Old Party’s 40th presidential nominating convention? Ottawa Life asked James Davis, Director of Communications, 2012 RNC, what his job as lead organizer entailed.

How many delegates are you expecting in Tampa in late August?

James Davis: About 5,000 individuals will attend the convention as delegates and alternate delegates. They will come from all 50 states and six U.S. territories — American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

How many media reps/personalities from all over the world will convene in Tampa in August to cover RNC 2012?

JD: From grassroots outlets to national news channels, the convention will be attended and covered by 15,000 or so members of the accredited media. These will include television, radio and print outlets as well as digital media such as Internet news sites and bloggers.

How do you handle the allotment of workspace, credentialing, transportation and other logistical details pertinent to the massive media presence covering the event?

JD: Our Media Operations team, led by Julie Shugar, works closely with the Congressional Press Galleries to assign credentials and workspace. Credentialed individuals and outlets will be provided workspace in the Tampa Convention Center, located just a short shuttle ride from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

In order to accommodate the nearly 50,000 convention participants, the convention team has reserved 15,000 rooms in 100 Tampa Bay-area hotels; some rooms will be made available for credentialed members of the media.

Freeman – a Dallas-based general contractor with exhibition expertise – has been selected as the General Services Contractor for the convention. Freeman has served in this role since the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. Freeman will provide a variety of services for the build-out of media workspace including furniture, drywall construction, room dividers or pipe and drape, material handling, signage, electrical distribution, cabling, aerial rigging and audio/visual services. Bright House Networks will provide the voice and data communications infrastructure in various locations around the convention complex.

SP Plus Gameday, an Orlando-based company, has been named the Official Transportation Services Manager for the convention. We will leverage their experience from notable local events, including Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, the 2008 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, played at the then-St. Pete Times Forum, as well as the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, played at Tropicana Field. The convention will use 300 buses to transport guests to and from the Forum.

How do you prevent volatile (and recorded/filmed) confrontations between opposing candidates and their supporters… or between forthright media personalities and candidates?

JD: We are confident that our party will unite behind our presumptive-nominee as we come together to officially nominate them in August.

With the grueling schedule in that pressure-cooker environment, what must the organizing committee do to keep the candidates and their spouses happy, as well as delegates, media reps and other guests?

JD: The 40th Republican Presidential Nominating Convention will serve as the center stage for our party’s nominee in August – there’s really nothing more exhilarating than nominating the next President of the United States and being part of this historic process.

The 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee is rolling out the red carpet to welcome convention guests to a world-class event, unmatched hospitality and all the wonderful amenities that make Tampa Bay such a great place.

What role will social networking play on the convention floor?

JD: We are developing an aggressive effort to allow broad public participation in convention events and program activities. We will be rolling out some of these programs and platforms in the coming weeks and months.

Does social networking make your job easier?

JD: Social media provides us with a greater opportunity to engage a growing number of online audiences here at the convention and across the country with our nominee’s themes and messages. According to a January 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, “some 21% of online adults used social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace in the months leading up to the November 2010 elections to connect to a campaign or the election itself, and 2% of online adults did so using Twitter.” While more online users are seeking political information, there is also greater competition for their attention. From the convention perspective, this forces us to provide more accurate, interesting and usable content to attract online users to our social media programs.

How do you handle the presence of celebrities at the RNC?

JD: It is still early in the process so we do not have plans for the involvement of any specific individuals. However, as in years past, the convention communications office will manage a program to connect convention and Republican Party leaders; federal, state and local elected officials; delegates, community leaders and other notable individuals with journalists seeking interviews. We will do our best to satisfy as many requests as possible for journalists located here in Tampa or back in their home offices. As you can imagine, with 15,000 journalists expected in Tampa for the convention, this will be a significant undertaking. 

What major pitfalls must you avoid while organizing a convention of such monumental proportions?

JD: There are many challenges to organizing a convention, from ensuring adequate hotel accommodations to implementing a streamlined and efficient credentialing process. The key to avoiding problems is understanding these challenges and having a staff with the experience and knowledge necessary to develop and implement detailed plans for every aspect of the convention. We are fortunate to have on our team a number of leaders who have worked on multiple conventions. In fact, our COO Mike Miller is on his thirteenth convention and our CEO Bill Harris is on his eleventh convention.

What changes were implemented in organizational procedures since the 2008 RNC in Minneapolis-Saint Paul?

JD: Each convention works to build off of the successes of past conventions, making changes where they are needed and leveraging the latest technologies for productivity and efficiency.

What are the great satisfactions of organizing the RNC?

JD: The 2012 Republican National Convention will stand at the forefront of American politics next August as we launch our nominee into the White House. It “kicks off” the head-to-head fall campaign that will decide the outcome of the next presidential election in November.  Being part of an effort that brings thousands of people from across the country in a peaceful and historic process is a unique opportunity.  And helping the American people, who are unable to attend in person, better understand the convention process, procedures and platform, and to better know our Republican nominee, is a great honor.

 [JD1]The venue was renamed the “Tampa Bay Times Forum: as of Jan. 1, 2012.