The PR Show: Have Nominating Conventions Outlived Their Purpose? What Once Served a Key Political Purpose Is Now Just an Overblown Infomercial, Experts Say — But the Parties' PR Machines Are Preparing For Maximum Visibility and a Social Explosion

The conventional wisdom about national political conventions is that they have outlived their purpose. Once, they were the place where the parties actually picked their candidates for president and vice president. But for at least 30 years now, conventions have been the place where the nominees, long since selected, try to bind up their party’s internal wounds and reach out over the heads of the delegates to woo the less partisan voters who usually decide the election. They have become the largest, most expensive infomercials in human experience.

So why are we even still having them?

As the parties convene, there will be much chattering that conventions don’t matter anymore, that they are a waste of money (some of it taxpayer money) and should be abandoned. "Total anachronisms. Parties should scrap ’em," said Mark McKinnon, former media adviser to George W. Bush and a co-founder of No Labels, a group devoted to purging "hyper-partisanship" from politics, reports AP writer Michael Oreskes.

The Senate, in fact, voted, 95 to 4 a few weeks ago to cut off in the future the $18.3 million subsidy each party gets to stage (that is the word — "stage") the conventions. Homeland Security also gives out $50-milllion to assure security at each convention.

The parties are not likely to give up their moments in the sun, however — conventions are the time when voters really tune in. Even with the reduced airtime the TV networks now give them, conventions bring a spike in attention, says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. Social media is likely to magnify that this year in the same way that it whetted TV audiences’ appetites for this summer’s other big event, the London Olympics.

The acceptance speeches of the two presidential nominees will be the largest campaign audience either receives until they meet together for the three debates.

Those speeches are no small thing.

American politics is hardly burdened by too much communication, although if you live in a battleground state saturated with 30-second commercials you might be forgiven for thinking that. The larger problem is too little substantive communication, particularly communication that forces a thought to last longer than the speed of soundbite.

The acceptance speeches are the only time in the entire fall campaign when each candidate speaks directly to the country for an extended time, unfiltered by news coverage or back and forth with an opponent.

Other countries arrange time specifically for that sort of thing. Not in America.

"It is the best chance for a candidate to ‘introduce himself’ to the country on his own terms," says Mickey Edwards, a Republican from Oklahoma. That is particularly interesting coming from Edwards, who in almost every other respect excoriates the present political system in his new book, The Parties Versus the People.

"I do, indeed, want to radically overhaul the system, but that’s about the voting process, money, partisanship in governing," Edwards says. "The convention is not at that level; it’s more of a ‘show’, more important than mere ‘entertainment.’ I see it as something worth watching, and even more so than most of the other stuff on television."

Conventions were originally thought of as a reform of a system in which congressmen picked the candidates. The first party conventions were before the election of 1832, and nominated Henry Clay to challenge President Andrew Jackson. Delegates arrived at both those party conventions knowing who would get the nomination. Just like this year. But that hasn’t stopped conventions from convening every four years since.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Marketing Trends PR Agency News PR Biz Update PR People
view of modern Meeting room interior
Inside the C-Suite: Companies Put Growth at Top of Their Agenda, but Most Execs Doubt Current Efforts Will Yield Needed Results

Growth is a priority at nearly every company today—but according to...

SAMSUNG CSC
Brand Analysis: Apple Watch Lacks Compelling Functionality to Drive Mass Adoption, Says Strategy Analytics Study

A new expert user experience (UX) evaluation undertaken by the Mobile...

biztraveler-long
Business Travelers Are Driving Online Retail for High-Value Goods—Is Your Marketing Strategy Targeting Them?

New research reveals that three in four business travelers do more than half...

On Deadline Thought Leaders
Gary Frisch
PR Crisis Strategy: What Can You Do if You’ve Just Killed a Beloved Lion?

By Gary Frisch, Founder and President, Swordfish Communications Public relations professionals spend...

Is Data Driving Your Leadership Decisions? Eight Ways Customer Analytics Can Give Your Company a Competitive Edge

In the spotlight: Jeff Sauro, Founding Principal, MeasuringU In a global...

Ally Mann
SeaWorld’s Huge PR Challenge: New Campaign Aims for Transparency—But Has This Fish Been Out of Water Too Long?

By Ally Mann, Freelance Writer SeaWorld has been desperately trying to...

Media monitoring and analysis

Current clients, please login here. Would you like to reduce the...

Inside Health Media

Current clients, please login here. Top pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, healthcare PR...

MediaPro: Bulldog Reporter's media database

Current clients, please login here. Do you need precisely targeted press...