Skift Take

Destination Cleveland raised the bar on integrated web and social media content to promote the city to visiting delegates and convention planners around the globe.

Midway through the four-day Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week, the most viral news so far surrounds Melania Trump’s speechwriter team, commonly referred to across social media right now as “Copy and Paste.”

That, no doubt, makes city tourism and convention officials happy.

For months leading up to the RNC, the city girded for the worst with unprecedented security initiatives in light of the alarmingly frequent violence at both Donald Trump’s campaign events and cities nationwide from Dallas to Baton Rouge.

There were a few scuffles between different protest groups in the main downtown park yesterday, but members of the local police force and some of the thousands of cops on loan from around the country dispersed people easily.

That’s exceedingly good news at this point for the Destination Cleveland convention and visitors bureau. The calm environment has allowed the staff to focus on promoting the city and helping both locals and 50,000 visitors find what they need, via the #AskCLE hashtag developed specifically for the convention, versus damage control on disturbances.

Speaking yesterday afternoon with David Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Cleveland, you could sense his cautious relief. He was closing in on the RNC’s half-time mark, and the vast majority of press coming out of the convention so far, relating to the city itself and all of the new tourism infrastructure upgrades, was overwhelmingly positive.

“Things have gone well, and we feel really good about how the community has prepared with a lot of energy and excitement, and peacefully too,” Gilbert told Skift. “The comments we keep receiving from the tens of thousands of people here are so positive about Cleveland and how beautiful the city is, and how friendly everyone’s been.”

The Cleveland RNC Content Machine

Gilbert, who is also CEO of the Cleveland RNC Host Committee, explained that the bureau’s primary role during convention week is to connect anyone who needs anything with the people in the city who can provide the requested information and services.

Toward that end, Destination Cleveland opened an RNC Social Media HQ in a downtown building donated by Citizens Bank. Nine large video monitors on the wall provide news updates, while a dozen Destination Cleveland staff and social media professionals from organizations like the Cleveland Cavaliers maintain the conversation around #AskCLE for 18 hours a day.

Questions, as expected, run the gamut from people seeking restaurant accommodations to others wanting traffic directions. Questions relating to security are automatically directed to the Cleveland police department. Questions relating to politics, such as this tweet asking when Trump will release his tax returns, tend to go unanswered by the bureau but they definitely bring others into the destination’s media stream.

The cool part here is everything that was developed for the RNC’s social media HQ will inform the bureau’s content and communications strategy for all conventions moving forward. The RNC has vastly educated the entire team about new digital initiatives like this slick interactive map on the Destination Cleveland website.

“All of the infrastructure and software developed for the social media center will remain with Destination Cleveland, so it’s ours, and that will be a huge resource for us for future meetings and conventions,” Gilbert said. “Half of the team there is putting out content, and half is pulling in content that’s customer service related. In fact, the police and security forces have been giving that hashtag to people who have a question.”

While developing the social media strategy in preparation for the RNC, Destination Cleveland’s social media team consulted with Visit Tampa Bay, who hosted the 2012 RNC. They also talked with Visit Kansas City, which developed a similar social media command center during the 2016 major league baseball all-star game.

In addition to that, over 15,000 credentialed journalists are working out of the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, when they’re not at the RNC events taking place at the Quicken Loans Arena, aka “The Q.” Destination Cleveland is responsible for helping answer questions for all of them, which is generally an impossible feat, along with providing all logistics to move what for them is an unprecedented amount of journos around the city.

Gilbert said that the big benefit for the city is the global exposure of Cleveland among international corporate decision makers and convention planners, and a high volume of direct connections with worldwide media companies .

“We’ve been working with the head of every major media outlet and agency leading up to the RNC, meaning competitors are all sitting together, to strategize how we best take advantage of hosting the convention,” explained Gilbert. “So we’ve been the main intake valve for media inquiries, and then we direct those inquiries to where they need to go.”

Destination Cleveland’s marketing and communications team also developed the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee website. The portal has evolved into much more than a placeholder highlighting the work of the committee, which in the past has been the primary purpose for such a site.

The platform is pushing out both the bureau’s press releases and curated content from other media such as The New York Times 36 Hours in Cleveland story. There is also comprehensive information promoting everything from leisure experiences throughout the city to a Supplier Guide with over 1,000 local companies providing services in more than 100 categories.

Tourism bureaus everywhere might want to pay attention to this content ecosystem to inspire their own platforms for meetings and convention groups. The cross-pollination between the bureau’s website, the host committee website, the local news channels, the private-public partnerships, and the social media platforms is more integrated than anything we’ve ever seen.

Gilbert is still laser focused on endless appearances for the next two days, and he’s quick to add that all of the external marketing and communication activity is only a portion of his to-do list. For example, there’s a batch of policy forums bringing together Washington D.C. policy makers and the big medical and tech companies in Cleveland, which require his attention.

Those types of gatherings represent the real legacy impact of hosting a political convention. As long as there’s peace in the streets, of course.

“All you can do for a major event like this is prepare so you can react to unexpected things, and hope that small issues don’t turn into big issues,” Gilbert said. “And so far, after nearly two days, we haven’t had to change course to adapt to anything too significant.”


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Tags: cleveland, events, meetings and events, politics, tourism

Photo credit: Staffers at the RNC social media command center developed the #AskCLE hashtag specifically for the convention. Destination Cleveland

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