Marketers' Role at Upcoming Republican Convention Comes Under Scrutiny

Corporate Sponsors Appear to Shy Away From Involvement

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Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena will host the RNC this summer.
Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena will host the RNC this summer. Credit: thisiscleveland.com

Amid controversial statements by presumptive nominee Donald Trump and pressure from activist groups, some corporate sponsors appear to be getting cold feet about the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Coca-Cola Co. said in March it will give only $75,000 previously committed to the convention, well short of the $660,000 given in 2012. A spokesman declined to give a reason. But Coke's statement was enough to get Color of Change, one of the groups organizing to scare off sponsors, to remove a "Share a Coke with the KKK" image from its online petition seeking to pressure sponsors to back out, said Rashad Robinson, executive director of the group.

He said the group still hasn't decided how it will deal with sponsors that don't back out, but he said the potential of "having your brand shown next to a Confederate flag" should be enough to scare them, alluding to Mr. Trump's endorsements from white supremacists.

Microsoft said in a blog post last month that it will provide technology support to the GOP and Democratic conventions, but in a decision made last fall, won't make cash donations. Four years ago, Microsoft donated $1.6 million in cash and services to the GOP event.

Walmart, which gave $150,000 to the GOP host committee last year, hasn't decided yet what it will do this year.

But the Cleveland2016 Host Committee said only one sponsor (which it declined to name) has so far backed out of a pledge, and that money was quickly made up from others. The group has raised $58 million of the $64 million it's seeking, more than any host committee in history, said spokeswoman Emily Lauer.

The donations really aren't about getting brand names in front of people, she said, though donors will get ads in the convention program and some will have their names plastered on welcome banners in the area. The donations are really about civic pride, supporting the democratic process, and getting access to elected and corporate officials who will be on hand, she said.

One brand sure to get national exposure, Quicken Loans, which has naming rights for the venue, professes no worries. "We're proud to have our name on Cleveland's award-winning arena," a spokesman said, adding that Ohio "will enthusiastically welcome tens of millions of domestic and international television viewers as well as thousands of visitors for the much-anticipated RNC."

AT&T is already locked in as the official wireless provider, and in a statement said it has assisted national conventions of both major parties for many years, citing "the important role both conventions play in the functioning of our democracy."

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