Pulling Out the Stops

Los Angeles

There are few who would argue with Gailmarie Fort on this point: "L.A. is the entertainment mecca of the world." And when the City of Angels was in the bidding process to host the 2000 Democratic National Convention (DNC), "We wanted that to shine through in everything we did," says Fort, then vice president of marketing communications at LA Inc., the city's convention and visitors bureau. Aside from wining, dining, and entertaining members of the Democratic National Committee during their site inspection of L.A., the CVB attempted to make them feel like one of the city's celebrity inhabitants. "We had a huge party on a soundstage at Universal Studios where we rolled out the red carpet, had paparazzi snapping pictures, and hired celebrity look-alikes to work the room."

When the committee toured the convention center, they were greeted in every room by life-sized cutouts of politicians. Each had a bubble over its head explaining why a particular room would be the perfect spot for a different aspect of the DNC. "It was a fun way of taking care of business, while showing them what we were capable of creatively."

The highlight came when a woman in full angel regalia was lowered from the ceiling of the convention center to present the committee with a CD-ROM of the bid proposal. "I don't think anyone missed the symbolism," laughs Fort. And although the committee claimed to be impressed with their taste of L.A., Fort believes her city was chosen for another reason: "We were very flexible. When they had a request, we turned on a dime to accommodate it. This is something a destination needs to exhibit when courting a meeting, big or small."

Boston

Where Los Angeles was successful in its bid to host the 2000 DNC, Boston fell short. "And that really lit a fire under us for 2004," says Pat Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. So much so that when the Democratic National Committee got together for its annual midwinter meeting in Washington D.C., Boston was there in force. "We brought down top chefs from famous local restaurants like Legal Seafood for a reception for the delegates," recalls Moscaritolo. They were joined by the mayor, hotel general managers, and other CVB member organizations like restaurateurs, transportation companies, even a representative from one of the airlines. "It was an effort to show that every member of the community was on board and passionate about hosting the DNC."

And the CVB really put its money where its mouth was: "Not only did we support our local bid committee financially [to the tune of $10,000], we also successfully urged the private sector to pledge $20 million of the $50 million it would cost to put on the convention." People opened their checkbooks, says Moscaritolo, "letting the committee see we wanted it and we were committed to it." Plus, the private owners of the Fleet Center, where the convention will be held, offered to foot the bill for renovations, showing that they, too, were behind the push to win the bid. "I'm convinced we won because they were wowed by the breadth of who was passionate and committed to the effort."

Detroit

"In our bid to host the DNC in 2004, we tried to do something that would have a big impact right off the bat, because we knew that beating Boston would be tough, as they were the bridesmaid in 2000," remembers Brad Van Dommelen, senior vice president of strategic business development at the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. To that end, the CVB condensed the entire bid proposal, which is about a hundred pages and rather dry, into a colorful brochure-like summary. It was placed in a briefcase, along with a CD-ROM of the full bid and letters from the mayor and local politicians, and sent to every member of the selection committee.

Next, the CVB created a pair of audio CDs; one contained the voices of business and civic leaders talking up Detroit, while the other discussed the importance of Michigan as a swing state. Both were shipped, one by one, to each committee member, with the intention of educating them and "staying in the front of their minds." The mailing was complete with a portable CD player. "We also seized the opportunity to stay in the foreground after the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup," adds Van Dommelen, "by sending every member an autographed jersey with their name on it."

After the site visit, which was videotaped, each member of the committee received a DVD containing the highlights of the event -- along with a portable DVD player, naturally. "This demonstrated our technological capabilities and served as a friendly reminder." Although unsuccessful, Van Dommelen sees the bright side. "We got our message across and showed that Detroit can compete with tier-one cities."

Houston

The last time a Super Bowl was played in Houston was 1972. The next one will kick off in less than a year. However, "Before we could even consider bidding for Superbowl 2004, we had to have plans in place to improve the city's infrastructure," notes Jordy Tollet, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "And that wasn't going to happen until we convinced city officials, civic organizations, hoteliers, and so on, that it was a good idea." Good enough that they'd open their wallets for new hotels, stadiums, and convention center expansions to support the big event. To that end, "We gathered historical data and proven situations where this kind of thing paid off in other cities. Then, we repeatedly pounded away at all the players involved, driving home the point that cities are forever; they are not here today, gone tomorrow." History has shown, adds Tollet, that a city will benefit from its infrastructure time and again, even if big sporting events never come calling.

Yet when they do -- thanks to the efforts of the CVB -- Houston can offer them Reliant Football Stadium, which was completed just last year, along with a 1,200-room Hilton set to open its doors by the end of the year. Also, a light rail system, connecting the downtown to Reliant Stadium, will be ready in time for the "big dance." What's more, the goings-on in the heart of Houston have led to a flurry of activity and excitement: Hotels are in the midst of renovations and about 40 new restaurants have sprung up. Says Tollet, "Things are really coming together for us."

New York

With an infrastructure as vast and diverse as the Big Apple's, you'd think the local convention and visitors bureau could put up its collective feet, sit back, and watch as meetings bust down the doors to the city. This is apparently not the case, because NYC and Company is chockful of creative ways to tease groups to town. "In securing the bid to host the Insurance Conference Planners Association's annual convention in 2005, we did what we could to 'stay in their faces' during the selection process," says Jerry Cito, NYC and Company's national sales manager. "We shipped them an empty basket, and then every day sent along an item exclusive to New York to fill it." That included pretzels, cheesecake, tiny taxicabs, chocolate statues of Liberty, and books on the history and architecture of New York. "We were told this created excitement in their office and everyone was curious over what would arrive next."

In nearly every attempt to woo a group, NYC and Company tailors the bid to suit the situation. "When we were wooing the Barbershop Quartet Convention we sent a member of a New York City barbershop quartet to hand deliver the proposal." And the bureau always attempts to make the most of the resources at its fingertips. "If the group wants to skate with the Rangers or play basketball on the Knicks' home court, we make that happen." And what's better than a Broadway show, followed by a visit with the performers backstage? "An abridged production at a private reception," answers Cito. Complete with cocktails with the stars.