By now, everyone interested has heard about the little rain delay that Hurricane Isaac forced upon the Republican National Convention, pushing back its effective opening from yesterday to this morning. Speeches were rescheduled and delegates redirected to prevent the out-of-towners from wandering into the convention hall while the rest of the city of Tampa scurried by two’s onto the Ark. As it turns out, the storm was the one that did the wandering, so Noah’s 98 years of hard work proved superfluous.
Remember that a party convention isn’t like a baseball game. You can’t just stretch a tarp over the field and wait until it’s time for the opening pitch to decide if you are going to play; it takes ages to pull a tarp over something as big as a party convention, much as it would with that ark.
And even if you can manage the feat in time, you still leave mysterious holes in the tarp. For example, the FBI and Secret Service (responsible for screening delegates who were to enter Monday) took down their tents due to wind so that each one of those Republican delegates would have had to stand outside during their screenings. In a hurricane. (Alright, I said no political commentary; we are strictly talking about the business elements here.)
The point is the logistics of orchestrating such a convention are mind-boggling even without a hurricane crashing the party.
For perspective, consider this: Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls in the last 30 years and the city’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn, says the RNC “is by every measure the largest undertaking this city has ever taken on,” and that, “We’ve done big events, but this is significantly more complicated and frought [sic] with risk and opportunity than anything before it.”
If that’s true, lets dig a little deeper into the numbers.
There are roughly 4,300 delegates attending the Republican Convention and the Democrats are expecting closer to 6,000 delegates at theirs next week. Each of those delegates requires a hotel room for four days, more or less, as will their staff. Tampa had expected about 75,000 reservations; the mayor reports they’ve had 90,000 booked. Hotels 35 miles from the convention center are sold out.
OK, one more on numbers and I promise I will stop. I am guessing the average price of a room is $200 (that’s average, not the usual price). That’s about $90 million in hotel revenue moving through that part of Florida in those five days. Even if there’s only one person in each of those rooms, that makes for at least 90,000 visitors in town. (We know it’s got to be higher, but that will work for now.) If each of those people spends an average of $100 a day on food and beverage, that’s another $45 million in revenue for the same five days (it’s at least another $20 million higher).
At a minimum, that’s $135 million in revenue in a week. A quick check of the Great Google shows that you match the internet company Yelp with that kind of annual revenue. You could purchase the medical device companies OrthoHelix or Medina for that kind of cash.
Clearly, running something like this can become a Titanic endeavor, in every sense of the word, if not managed properly.
Management is more than the face of the party chairman that you see on television. There’s an army behind the scenes shepherding the masses to rehearsal and to their marks on stage, all the while constrained by the limits imposed by television coverage. A friend I lost many years ago used to be one of those mystery mavens behind the scenes. His tales of the chaos at those events only reinforce my perception of the managerial duty being akin trying to steer the Titanic down the interstate. In rush hour.
So what’s my message as we watch the circus unfold this week and next?
A business of any size must remember that while the image isn’t the message, the message is definitely controlled by the image. As I run my little one-car train, I’m every bit as vulnerable to running off the rails as a party convention full of speakers that can’t hit their marks. (I am dating myself with this but I remember all too well the blowback of George McGovern giving his 1972 acceptance speech well after midnight.)
As I meet with or follow up with clients, I have to project the image that those clients most likely want to see. (And that image is not the circle of hell that is office administration, which I must fight daily to conceal from public view.) Remember, if they don’t see the right image, they may not hear the right message.
Image and message are scalable. You have to remember to take care of both. The city of Tampa knows it, the invisible convention puppeteers know it, and you have to know it if you’re going find success in business.
And there’s one more thing to remember: If you’re driving on Interstate 95, look out for that giant boat coming up behind you. It’s probably a little chaotic on the bridge.
Good luck and good hunting.
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