Some trade groups that in the past have made the pilgrimage to the national political conventions to press their causes and promote their industries are finding they can use their time and money to better effect elsewhere this year.
Of particular concern is the Republican convention next week in Cleveland, where Republican will meet to nominate Donald Trump for president, but there is an overall feeling that this political season has been defined too much by negativity and controversy.
“Trade associations are increasingly looking at avoiding the conventions this year,” said Matt Haller, a lobbyist at the International Franchise Association, which represents 1,400 franchisors. “There’s become an over-saturation of noise. You get lost in the shuffle.”
Between that and the growing list of Republican lawmakers skipping out on Cleveland, Haller’s group is redirecting the five-figure budget it would have spent on convention sponsorships and in-kind donations to instead launch a two-day lobbying campaign in Colorado next week. The group’s leaders will travel to Denver and Colorado Springs to host roundtables with business owners, meet with elected officials and do outreach at law schools and business schools to promote the franchising business model. The campaign will continue into the summer and fall in Chicago, Atlanta and Minneapolis.
“We thought this was a good opportunity to highlight our issues away from the convention, to engage with Democrats and Republicans who may not be in Cleveland,” Haller said.
The association is still deciding whether it will go to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia later this month.
The National Association of Manufacturers, which has sponsored events at both parties’ conventions in the past, is not participating in either the Republican of Democratic events. Instead, the group is focusing on voter registration efforts, hosting town hall meetings in battleground states and taking to social media to push back against Donald Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric and Hillary Clinton’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, with the hashtags #MakeAmericaTradeAgain and #TruthontheTrail.
— Nat Assoc of Mfg (@ShopFloorNAM) July 12, 2016
“This election cycle, the NAM’s staff and leadership will not be attending either convention because we believe this year’s events will be more focused on discussing politics instead of policy,” NAM senior vice president of external relations Ned Monroe wrote Thursday in a blog post titled “The Convention Circus.” “As a result, the NAM has decided to allocate our resources to you, the manufacturing voter.”
The two groups appear to be in the minority among Washington-based trade associations, many of whom — despite the controversy swirling around Cleveland — are nonetheless using the conventions as a branding opportunity for their industry.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association is sponsoring hotel key cards at both conventions, paying to get its logo onto roughly 45,000 key cards at the 225 host hotels in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
The National Retail Federation is spending slightly more on conventions this year than in 2012 — a combined $250,000 to $350,000 for both cities. In Cleveland, NRF is sponsoring a hospitality lounge for members of Congress; in Philadelphia, it will host a cocktail reception with QVC.
“It’s business as usual,” said David French, the group’s chief lobbyist. “We budgeted for a decent presence in both cities and I’m expecting to spend most of it.”