ST. PAUL — Perhaps the only thing rivaling the promotion of the parties’ platforms during their nominating conventions has been that of Time’s blog, The Page. Mark Halperin’s questionably “indispensable” Web site is almost everywhere in St. Paul, introducing itself to a wider audience, solidifying its brand, and bringing a whole new cachet to the Excessive Definite Article.
One of the primary Rules of Branding is, of course, to ensure visual impact for, and consumers’ recognition of, your product. In The Page’s case, this has equated to the association of Halperin’s blog with a particularly rich shade of royal blue (deep—almost purply—in hue). And then to the distribution of the branded shade, in the form of signs and banners and t-shirts and all manner of marketing paraphernalia, to the masses.
In Denver, a gaggle of blue-shirted twenty-somethings—some riding on The Page-decorated golf carts, others simply milling around on foot—clung to the entrances to the Pepsi Center, talking up The Page to passersby and offering free The Page t-shirts (“Experience. We’ve Got That, Too.”) to those who would allow The Page-ettes to program The Page into their BlackBerrys’ and iPhones’ RSS feeds. “Have you heard about The Page?” they’d ask, perkily.
Most, of course, had. (It’s The Page, after all. And this is a political convention. They might as well have been asking fans at a U2 concert whether they’d heard about Bono.)
The corridors of Denver’s media tents offered a scavenger hunt of sorts—a domino-line of foamboard-on-easel signs (“The Page Blue,” accented in deep red) with white arrows pointing “This Way to The Page.” The reward for following The Page’s maze to its heart? A glimpse of The Page’s office: neat rows of computers on tables surrounded by makeshift curtain-walls. Which, save for the pervasiveness of The Page Blue on the posters framing its perimeter, looked exactly like every other drab, soulless media workspace in the tents. Still, you have to appreciate the
arrogance hubris self-confidence implicit in The Page’s assumption that, like the Grand Canyon or a baby’s smile, the simple view of the thing would be its own reward.
The excess of it all, rhetorically and literally, is a marketing strategy that could be deemed alternately ridiculous or brilliant. And, regardless, it’s a strategy that seems, in so many ways, a fitting metaphor for the nominating conventions as a general phenomenon. Especially because The Page’s promotional pervasiveness is just as evident in St. Paul as it was in Denver. (Even Donna Brazile, who perhaps might have other things to observe about the RNC’s events, made note of it.) The faces of the blue-shirted youths outside the Xcel Center may be different from the faces of the blue-shirted youths outside Pepsi’s counterpart—but their bubbly enthusiasm for all things Halperin has been, somewhat remarkably, constant.
I’d assumed that all the youthful perkiness came, at least in part, from something that’s always evoked enthusiasm among the young: being well compensated for their work. But—you know what they say about assuming—I was wrong. The Page-ettes aren’t paid. Well, in legal tender, anyway. “I’m just doing this for the experience of it all and the networking and everything,” one told me. “It’s been great. You get to see all these celebrities—” he stopped himself—“I mean, you know, newscasters—in person.”
“Yeah, it’s been really fun,” another echoed. “Definitely worth it. Hey,” he continued, looking down at my empty hands, “have you gotten your schedule of tonight’s events from The Page?” He handed me a small card printed with The Page’s logo and a list of speakers. “It’s laminated.”
That it is. It also has, on the back, detailed instructions for getting “TIME.com’s The Page for your BlackBerry.”
The Page-ettes’ we’ll-work-for-free-and-be-happy-about-it attitude should serve them in good stead: Turns out that they’re aspiring journalists. Here in St. Paul, they’ve been recruited from the University of Minnesota’s journalism program, via the department’s list-serv of current students and recent graduates. The Page e-mailed; The Page-ettes responded. In droves. About sixty of them made the final cut, they estimate.
“It was like applying for a job. We had to send in our cover letter and resume,” a future magazine writer told me. “So they chose us based on our experience. But no interviews or anything like that.”
The Page-ettes are also well trained in media relations. When I asked them their names, they (very politely, even enthusiastically) informed me that they aren’t really supposed to talk directly to the press. Then they (very politely, even enthusiastically) referred me to their media coordinator, spelling out her full name and giving me her cell number. I appreciated the help. But I tried once more: Were they sure I couldn’t mention their names?
“Well, if you’re going to promote The Page,” one said, “then you could.”
Well. No need for that, my blue-shirted friends.Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.