Already, President Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole have locked up their nominations, so rather than spending time with political hardball, conventioneers may be more receptive to a hard sell from the tourist-hungry host cities.
Each city has its own non-partisan host committee. Chicago '96 is looking ahead to the Democratic National Convention Aug. 26-29 at the United Center, while the San Diego Host Committee is gearing up for the Republican National Convention, Aug. 12-15 at the San Diego Convention Center.
SHADOWS OF '68
The image-polishing opportunity may be especially important to Chicago and its mayor, Richard M. Daley. The last time the city hosted a presidential convention was 1968-Mayor Daley's father, Richard J., ruled Chicago then, and the Democratic National Convention was held in the midst of antiwar protests and an iron-fisted police response.
What a difference nearly three decades make. The 1996 Democratic convention is being sandwiched between two of the city's most popular weekend events, the annual Chicago Air & Water Show and Chicago Jazz Festival.
Speculation remains about whether committee Co-Chairman William Daley, brother of the mayor, will succeed in his bid to shorten the actual convention by substituting a day of entertainment for a day of speeches.
"This is not about party politics as much as it is about showing off our city to the world," said Julie Thompson, communications/media director of Chicago '96.
A shortened convention would have no effect in the planning of the week's events, she said.
"We look at the entire event as a two-week window of opportunity," Ms. Thompson said. "Our strategy has always been `Come early, stay late.' As the White House makes its decision [on how many days], that strategy won't change."
Since November 1994, the committee has been working on almost 20 communications projects to engineer the showcasing of Chicago for an estimated 35,000 visitors, including 15,000 from the media.
The projects range from recruiting volunteers and creating public service announcements to compiling a photo library and videotape of the city for the media.
SELLING THE CITY
"It's all about brand awareness," Ms. Thompson said, "and we must sell the city as if it were a brand. The reason that this host committee exists is to showcase the city and the state to the visitors and a worldwide audience, as well as promote long-term economic impact and business development in the city."
Chicago '96 is in the process of renegotiating its contract with the Democratic National Convention Committee for funds to be raised for the convention from $32.3 mil- lion to around $25 million.
"We can provide the same quality without having to raise so much money," Ms. Thompson said.
Chicago '96 currently boasts more than 40 vice chairs, businesses that have agreed to an initial donation of at least $100,000. Participating big-name marketers include Ameritech Corp., AT&T Corp., Amoco Corp., Anheuser-Busch Cos., Browning-Ferris Industries, Fruit of the Loom, McDonald's Corp., Motorola and United Airlines.
Chicago '96 hopes to raise around $7 million from businesses, $7 million in a state tourism matching grant, $5 million in city services and the remainder from in-kind donations.
According to a study by the University of Illinois and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the city stands to make $360 million in total revenue.
AT&T has been named the official technology company and long-distance provider of Chicago '96 and has promised $1.25 million worth of contributions, said Stan Gorski, the marketer's director for the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
Ameritech has partnered with AT&T to provide all local communications needs for Chicago '96. Ameritech will give $1.2 million in contributions, said Maybeth Johnson, media director for the marketer.
AT&T also has a team in place in San Diego for the GOP convention.
The San Diego Host Committee also has several communications projects in the works, said Jack Ford, executive director.
More than 10,000 delegates, as well as 10,000 members of the media, are expected to attend.
The San Diego group agrees that funding should come from private sources.
FROM AT&T TO CHEVRON
Sponsors for the San Diego convention include AT&T, United, Browning-Ferris, Atlantic Richfield Co., Chevron Corp., Dole Food Co., Philip Morris Cos., Pacific Telesis Group and Goldman, Sachs & Co.
The host committee has a contractual agreement to raise $11.2 million, but this doesn't include the welcoming party for delegates. The committee expects to exceed the set amount, Mr. Ford said.
Both host committees are also taking their pitches to cyberspace. Chicago '96 has a home page on the city's Chicago Mosaic site on the World Wide Web (http://www.ci.chi.il.us/Chicago96/); a new site by Ameritech is being developed and should be launched by May 1.
The San Diego committee, in conjunction with the Republican National Committee, has a Web site at (http://emporium.turnpike-.net/;walk/sandiego/conv_ctr/conv96sd.htm).