Who's Going to the White House Correspondents' Dinner?

Hollywood and Sport Stars Touted, but Marketers Go Incognito

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- It may be the biggest secret about Saturday night's White House Correspondents' Association dinner. No, it's not the Hollywood and sports stars attending. No, it's not the politicos who will come. It's not even the very funny tape Stephen Colbert, the night's master of ceremonies and host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," has prepared. The most closely guarded information seems to be which advertisers have been invited.
Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert Credit: AP

Who from Madison Avenue will join cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, Hollywood stars Morgan Fairchild, Sela Ward, Jill Hennessy, Doris Roberts, Naomi Judd and Melina Kanakaredes, sports stars Tiki Barber, Anna Kournikova, Ben Roethlisberger, Tommy Lasorda and Michael Strahan and, of course, Henry Kissinger? Only three names could be confirmed: Mark LaNeve, VP-sales, service and marketing, General Motors-North America; Becky Saeger, chief marketing officer, Charles Schwab; and Gary Elliott, VP- brand marketing, Hewlett-Packard.

Not naming names
While CNN, Newsweek and Time all said advertisers were invited to sit with them at the dinner, they turned quiet when asked who exactly they had invited. U.S. News was happy to note that Morgan Fairchild would be among its guests, but would not giving up any marketer names. USA Today refused to even say if marketers were invited.

TV and cable TV networks commonly bring top advertisers to major entertainment events, viewing it as both a reward for patronage and a way to reinforce their prestige. That's true whether the event is the taping of a top TV show or the Super Bowl. So it wouldn't be exactly unexpected that cable news networks, news magazines and newspapers would use the White House dinner, essentially the Super Bowl of Washington, as a reward. Indeed, ad agency execs and marketers have regularly attended the dinner in past years.

"It's one of those events that is very prestigious and high profile when you consider the individuals who attend, from the president to the vice president to top political leaders and top celebrities,” said Sal Petruzzi, a spokesman for CNN, who is one of the few willing to discuss the subject, though not to name names. "It's very appealing to our clients."

National Journal Group's John Fox Sullivan, group publisher-CEO, who is willing to name names -- he invited the three marketing executives named above, as well as others -- said the event draws plenty of advertising executives and it serves as one way for his publications, The Atlantic and National Journal, to promote themselves to a non-Washington advertising audience.

Strong Washington presence
He said the publications are relatively small nationally compared to other media, but the strong Washington presence offers opportunities to use events like the State of the Union and the Correspondents dinner.

"A lot of ad folks like to come to it. It's one of the premiere Washington events and Hollywood people add the sparkle," he said. "Inside the beltway, we are a pretty significant player. We essentially sell to opinion leaders, and essentially they are gathered together for one night in a room. For a lot of out-of-towners, it's a pretty neat thing to go to, comparable to the Oscars."

Spokespeople for ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, The New York Times, MSNBC-TV, Fox News Channel, The Washington Post and Comedy Central said those media outlets aren't bringing advertising guests. Fox News Channel said it did bring advertising guests to a radio TV correspondents' dinner recently.
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