One hundred and twenty-five—that’s roughly the number of men and women staffing the GOP communications war room during the convention. A squadron that large should be excessive, but consider another number: 15,000. That’s the number of credentialed journalists, gathered from the six non-Arctic continents, covering the event. And that total doesn’t even include the reporters not located in Tampa this week but nonetheless paying close attention to the GOP’s marquee event.
In other words, the convention’s media staff isn’t overkill—it’s barely enough to make sure Mitt Romney can capitalize on the best three-day opening he’ll have to convince voters that he should be the country’s next president.
James Davis, the man in charge of the war room, said that although campaigns are getting longer and longer, many voters don’t start paying attention until the party conventions. “The convention is a unique opportunity to really give a great insight of who your candidate is and get to know Mitt Romney, to get his history, to get to know his accomplishments.”
On Tuesday, as the Republican National Committee chairman gaveled in the day’s session, staffers buzzed quietly about their work in a room the size of two tennis courts. Teams sat at tables around the room, with the digital folks near the entrance and the research division in the back. But each table had the same three basic components: gray laptops, empty water bottles, and coffee-stained Starbucks cups.
Davis estimates that the staff will set up thousands of interviews by the convention’s close. And, of course, that’s only part of the job that also includes responding to a never-ending stream of phone calls and e-mails from reporters. A quick check of his in-box revealed that Davis had 1,388 unread e-mails—not including those in the folder named “war room.”
“It gets intense,” he said, “because you have media advisories ... excerpts of speeches ... the speeches themselves. Then there’s the schedule of things going out. We put out press releases for the videos. So there’s a lot of outgoing information.”
The office is away from the action on the floor of Tampa Bay Times Forum but in the middle of makeshift newsrooms where the journalists work. The idea is to give GOP officials direct access to the people covering the convention.
“We want to be colocated with them, because we are just as dependent on you as you are on us,” Davis said. “We need you to get out our message.”
This year’s convention has a new wrinkle: social media. The communications team takes advantage of Twitter and Facebook, tools far more popular now than they were four years ago, to reach out to voters in their own living rooms.
“The central idea we had was to create a convention without walls,” Davis said. “And that was the whole vision, which was, you can fit only so many people in Tampa. So take the convention to people around the country, engage around them, to allow them to build community and advance your message and build your message.”
This article appears in the August 29, 2012 edition of NJ Convention Daily.