Marketers vie for delegates' eyes

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One of the most striking spectacles to greet Republican National Convention attendees upon their arrival in midtown Manhattan is the transformation of the area known as Penn Plaza into a semblance of Times Square.

The area around the convention venue in Madison Square Garden, a fledgling advertising mecca, is in full regalia. Marketers from Anheuser-Busch Cos. to Nextel Communications and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America have bought outdoor space to catch the attention of the nearly 5,000 delegates as well as thousands of politicians and media types.

Glitzy illuminated signs and billboards, some as high as 100 feet in the air, carry messages ranging from seriously political to the satirical (Comedy Central's "Welcome to New York. That smell? Freedom") and general appeals to politicos (Budweiser's "It's time for a Grand Old Party").

Some, like Diageo's Captain Morgan, have built campaigns around election themes, making the convention a logical ad buy. One ad reads "New Yorkers support Captain Morgan. The candidate that knows how to party." The message on the outdoor ad is reiterated on taxi tops and other more guerrilla-esque media.

the captain's party?

"The Captain is irreverent, fun and a party icon," said Brand Director Hernando Ruiz-Jimenez. "The ad fits with his image and with our grass-roots movement."

For others, such as Planned Parenthood, outdoor signage is "perfect to be able to make a statement to the world and the people attending the convention," said Gloria Feldt, president, Planned Parenthood.

The area around Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station came into being as a media play only recently, largely through the efforts of Vornado Realty Trust. Vornado, owner of some of the area's larger commercial properties, including the Hotel Pennsylvania, collaborated with various outdoor companies, such as Clear Channel Communications, to lobby the New York City Planning Commission to rezone the area to allow large-scale signage. In late 2001, the commission approved the creation of the Penn Center Subdistrict.

"Outdoor signage for the area was viewed as a way to illuminate the area and bring an energy that results from the creative and lighting," said Barry Kula, VP-sales and marketing, Clear Channel. "That's what we borrowed from Times Square." The result: a small-scale replica of its better-known neighbor.

To be sure, Penn Center is small, financially speaking, compared to Times Square. Clear Channel's Mr. Kula estimates that the total value of outdoor media in Penn Center is $15 million vs. an estimated $70 million for Times Square. But the huge concentration of New Yorkers who pass through each day-300,000 commute in on the Long Island Railroad daily, according to one estimate-combined with the congested traffic, make the area attractive in media buyers' eyes.

"Things are slow-moving there," said outdoor buyer Dee Prier, VP-Grey Global Group's MediaCom. "It's a good opportunity to see a sign."

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