Republican consultants this summer have been torn over whether to show face at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland or stay home and huddle with existing clients.
For strategists looking to expand their client roster, the convention can be a honeypot, but many Republican consultants this year opted to stay home. For some, it was because their clients wanted nothing to do with Donald Trump’s coronation. Others worked for Trump’s primary rivals and haven’t been brought into the general campaign’s fold.
Fred Davis, who made ads for a Super PAC backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was a convention regular. In 2008, he was the creative director for John McCain's confab in St. Paul, Minn. But the longtime ad maker "ain't going" this time, he said. "Just don't have a horse in the race."
Stuart Stevens, another senior GOP media consultant, helped plan Mitt Romney's convention in 2012 in Tampa, Fla. He's also skipping Cleveland 2016, which he considers an aberration.
"I've only been to conventions when working for campaign," Stevens said. "In 2000, I did the Bush film and was dealing with that. In 2004, we made the Bush film in four days. In 2012, [I] was busy with the usual. So I really don't know what people do at these things.”
He added: “If it was a normal convention and not a Trump convention, I'd be up for finding out. But I'm not a Trump Republican."
Still, there are plenty of Republican consultants who this year find themselves at Trump’s convention in Cleveland this week.
Phillip Stutts, a digital consultant whose firm Go BIG Media does work for the RNC, has a reason to be on the ground. "We’ve got clients who are in town and they want to have a digital component,” he said.
“It’s less prospecting for new clients than it is giving additional services for our existing clients so they can have a larger presence when they’re in town,” said Stutts, who got his start as a staffer on Bob Dole’s 1996 convention in San Diego, Calif.
And despite some larger corporate entities steering clear of Cleveland this week, plenty of parties and networking opportunities remain. For consultants and other ad and tech vendors in the campaign space, it’s still a prime chance for some business development.
Cleveland is being billed by organizers as the first convention where “digital strategy” takes center stage. That’s making it easier on consultants like Stutts who are trying to enhance their clients’ online profile. Opportunities exist for live streaming their own content and making the rounds on media row.
In some cases, though, it's business unusual. From the opening gavel of this convention it’s been clear this is unlike any party shindig in recent memory and some professionals who are on the ground are just trying to go with the flow — and navigate the increased security.
Mike DuHaime, who was Rudy Giuliani's campaign manager in 2008, said he was only going to be in Cleveland while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made appearances. "It is a different role than the last three or four [conventions] for me," DuHaime said.
"For me," said Rex Elsass, an Ohio-based GOP media consultant, "it's just an opportunity to gather with old friends."