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D.C. Media Events Can be Nasty Biz

Media event planning can be a dirty business in Washington. In many instances it’s tough to tell who is playing copy cat, but some things are clear: publications are vying to host pointedly similar events and competing for guests and warm bodies to fill their audiences. Getting the events underwritten is no small task. This is also where things can turn sneaky.

We recently reported that Politico was hosting a year out election event to be held the morning of Nov. 1. They sent word via a “Save the Date” note. As it so happens, NJ is hosting a twin gathering on the very same morning. They circulated information about their election preview among D.C.’s community of sponsors and advertisers prior to Politico‘s notice back in March. But word travels fast in Washington — these are some of the same sponsors and advertisers with whom Politico also negotiates.

“Events are definitely a business,” said an industry insider who didn’t want to be quoted by name. “They provide great exposure for media organizations, and they are good opportunities for professionals in D.C. to get in-depth briefings on political and policy issues, but they are also a real contributor to most media companies’ bottom lines.”

NJ‘s election preview event is being underwritten by the National Assoc. of Homebuilders and United Technologies. Yahoo! News is a co-sponsor and the outlet’s journalists will participate in the event. Sessions have been planned. An agenda can be found online. Politico, meanwhile, hasn’t revealed their underwriters, locale or agenda — announcements are expected next week.

To be sure, special outside guests are a hot commodity for these media affairs. Initial email invites from NJ to panelists, ABC’s Amy Walter, CBS’s Bob Schieffer and NBC’s Chuck Todd,  went out the end of July. Still, Politico also secured Todd and Walter, with Todd receiving his invitation from NJ prior to Politico. With Todd and Walter being NJ alums, it’s no shock they’d want them to participate. Just like networks, the dueling event organizers can space them at different times, but the double booking has to be causing some to squirm. Politico‘s other gets: Former Bush Spokesman Ari Fleischer, former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, CBS’s Norah O’Donnell and CNN’s Jessica Yellin amid several unknown names from the Des Moines Register, St. Pete Times and Charleston Post Courier.

NJ and Politico are utilizing many of their own reporters and editors for the events, so from a guest’s perspective it comes down to who do you want to hear more? From Politico you’ll see the usual suspects of Executive Editor Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Senior Political Reporter Jonathan Martin. From NJ there’s Editor-in-Chief Ron Fournier, Ron Brownstein, Charlie Cook and Matthew Cooper.

Different faces, but the concept is the same. Does Washington really need identical events from sparring publications all on the same morning? And if this all seems more than petty, it is except for the fact that these events are vital in gaining a publication significant exposure, buzz and ultimately revenue.

A source at Politico, who spoke on condition of being nameless, argues their event will be richer in content, offering a nearly identical theme to NJ‘s event and a list of  participants: “Although the topics are similar, and we’re delighted Amy and Chuck can join us, we really feel our event is different: we have panels covering a wider range of topics with a broader group of people on stage. We have had a great response since our invitations went out at the end of September and believe our half-day event will be the place for kicking-off the countdown to November 2012.”

NJ Publicist Taylor West, counters, saying, “The National Journal events team is one of the most respected and successful in Washington because they invest the time, preparation, and thoughtfulness that it takes to put together premier events. Our 2012 Election Preview event is no exception, with a can’t-miss slate of confirmed participants, in-depth sessions on each of the critical parts of the upcoming election cycle, and more exciting guest announcements to come. For folks looking for substance and strategy – not spin – this event will deliver the goods.”

Despite the clawing and infighting involved in executing these events, insiders insist these events are key to a publication’s success or failure.

 

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