An operational health plan to safely produce a reduced in-person event was the starting point for planning the 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) based in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to James Sample, director of operations for the 2020 RNC Committee on Arrangement. The Queen City won the bid in 2018 to be the host city for the convention, but as the Aug. 21 event neared, the city was still in Phase 2 of reopening with restaurants at 50 percent capacity and an official limit of no more than 10 people gathered indoors. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services “expressed a willingness to flexibility” based on a 42-page safety plan submitted by the RNC that included mask wearing and 6-foot distancing for more than 300 delegates.

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“We then determined how to work with different stakeholders to share the live event in Charlotte across multiple digital channels and media outlets,” he explained. The North Carolina event focused on housing delegates from all over the country at Westin Charlotte with the roll call live at Charlotte Convention Center.

Unprecedented Plans

The team spent the summer assessing needs and creating plans for the four-day production that culminated on August 24 with the formal nomination of the Republican presidential candidate who gave the acceptance speech in a broadcast from Washington, D.C.

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“There was and—still is—no precedent or playbook for event planning in the midst of a pandemic. Purely from an event and operational standpoint, this meant we had to be agile and creative in creating the roadmap that would guide us,” Sample said.

In addition to logistical infectious disease accommodations, the RNC had also never implemented a rule change like the 37e modified roll call/vote, which was the basis of the event they were planning. “The team was creating a robust health plan while also tracking a brand-new voting process required by the national party,” Sample said.

Up Close and Personal

The digital elements were a collaborative effort between in-house communications, digital and operations teams to ensure the stream would work well when broadcast out to the world. Sample’s team condensed participation for what is traditionally the in-person business session on the first day of the convention to what was seen on the live stream via CSPAN and major TV networks Monday morning.

While the bones of the plan remained the same, the numbers of participants was “greatly reduced” to ensure health and safety needs could be met in a smaller space than where a convention roll-call vote is traditionally done. “While were committed to providing viewers with an opportunity to be part of the excitement in their homes, which is why we provided a live stream feed for media outlets, a plethora of viewing options for those watching from their homes, and added additional camera positions for voting delegates,” Sample said. Individual cameras were positioned across the room to minimize movement and flow from a safety and health perspective, and yet still provide at-home viewers with a chance to see the representative from each delegation formally cast their ballot.

Significant Security

Every political convention is designated as National Special Security Event (NSSE)—meaning it is a major federal government public event considered to be nationally significant. This requires extra security precautions and resources in place. Sample’s team worked closely with Secret Service, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD), the FBI and additional, state, local and federal partners. “Our local partners, CMPD, were tremendous as they helped secure the venues where attendees would be residing during their time in Charlotte,” he said.

Further, the RNC team had a series of health and safety measures in place to keep participants healthy and safe. In addition to a daily health screening process, attendees also received several health-specific items in their welcome bags which were placed inside attendee hotel rooms. There were also several health stations located around the convention center where attendees could ask questions, take a mask, acquire hand sanitizer, etc.

A Sense of Charlotte

Branding and decor is a big component to making attendees feel wholly immersed in the experience. For the 2020 RNC, this started at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), where attendees were greeted by “volunteers” and a welcome area for delegates to see local NC-made products and snap a few photos in front of the RNC-branded wall. Themed welcome signage and activations at each main location, including the hotel delegates were staying and the convention center where delegates would be voting.

Online volunteers were encouraged to share where they would be watching from through an online social media campaign. “This was a great way to build excitement, increase engagement, and encourage viewers to tune in leading up to the formal re-nomination,” Sample said.

The backdrop behind each delegate who was formally casting their votes on behalf of the delegation in Charlotte also had RNC-branding, complete with our #RNC2020 social media hashtag.

A Proud Moment

The Committee on Arrangements planned for months to safely orchestrate a formal re-nomination event for the president and vice president. “That we did this during a pandemic, broadcast live to the world, and did so all on a shortened timeline is nothing but a testament to the team of professionals we had working on this event. Everyone on the convention team should be proud. We put together a robust health plan (still in action!) to protect attendees and the local community with 5 goals in mind: prevent, protect, mitigate, respond and recover,” Sample said.

“I am proud to have worked with this group of professionals and to have infused a little work into an otherwise frozen hospitality industry. I hope event organizers and hospitality professionals can look to this event with a renewed sense of hope that there is always a way to make things work, even in the midst of the unknown,” he concluded.

Beth Butler, director of destination services with Visit Charlotte also saw the event as a win. “It was a huge accomplish for the City of Charlotte and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to be among one of ten cities to host both National Conventions regardless of the size.”