The White House Correspondents’ Dinner Isn’t About the President – Or Even the Dinner Itself
I’m about to take offer an alternative perspective to your mainstream news sources here, but bear with me and you’ll see what I mean. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is not about the President.
True, historically whomever holds the office has attended and sat there willingly for a comedic roast by that year’s chosen celebrity, but the dinner is about the journalists, or more specifically, the journalists who’ll benefit from the scholarships of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
But the dinner and the roast get the most airplay, especially as of late. The dinner though is not while guests attend. Here’s what it’s really like:
During said roast, the guest dine on not-so-hot dinners and, wait for it….anticipate when the dinner will be over (insert gasp) so they can go to the after parties! (And this is after they’ve already spent two nights going to pre-parties!)
Let me explain.
The dinner is not about the dinner, it’s about the events surrounding the dinner. Beginning on the Thursday prior to the headlining dinner on Saturday, many news and journalism organizations host special events throughout Washington. These cocktail, business attire, brunches and throughly produced affairs are staged for the same purpose as any event: entertain a sponsor, thank a client, reward an employee, and in general, build their brand.
While there’s a lot of talk about whether the broadcast world is focused on “real” vs. “fake” news, the point is, there are still people out there creating that content and the connections they have with sources, executives, and each other are what will make sure that debate goes away.
Why those these events?
Well, let’s face it: you can have the most researched, breaking news stories in the world, but if there are no ad dollars coming in, there is now avenue to put out the news.
(This also explains why many in the event world are seeing wedding and event blogs fold left and right. Talent doesn’t pay for itself.)
Now about those events…
Organizations hosting annual events begin with the Independent Journal Review‘s Thursday night affair, Capitol File and Atlantic Media‘s Friday night cocktail parties, and Saturday’s Garden Brunch that honors veterans (yep, again not about the President). Then as Saturday night rolls around, the pre-parties begin throughout the Washington Hilton, where the main dinner is held, hosted by brands like The Washington Post, Thomson Reuters, Atlantic Media (again) and Bloomberg.
After a few drinks and some socializing among beautifully branded step and repeats (photos below) attendees who actually are going to the dinner do and the rest go have dinner until…
…The After Parties
This is where the fun really happens. Atlantic Media and Thomson Reuters welcome their pre-party guests back to their function rooms at the Hilton for more drinks, socializing, and entertainment while others headed off to the Organization of American States for what has always been my favorite after party hosted by NBCNews and MSNBC.
Oh, and let’s not forget the food. Occasions Caterers once again brought out their signature style menu for the late night affair: first sweet desserts, then savory breakfast items post-midnight. Cereal ice cream sandwich anyone?
Onto Sunday’s brunches…
The highlight of the post-dinner activities is the aptly named Hangover Brunch hosted by CNN. The media company returned to Longview Gallery this year with the same event producers, Advoc8, but a new theme inspired by Alice in Wonderland. (CNN took guests under the big top to a political circus in 2017.)
Outside a greenery wall filled with 4,000 roses spelled out the brand name before they walked through a tunnel of oversized playing cards and down the proverbial rabbit hole.
Across town, Politico also hosted a themed brunch, this time taking a cue from its host venue: the British Embassy. Bond Events produced the affair that featured royal guards at the entrance, London Underground-style signage emblazoned with “POLITICO”, bars serving Pimm’s cups, and a backyard tent that exuded elegance and style.
The point of all this is…
Why do these decor, food, and production details matter? Because they further the point of the event, which is to create an experience. Experiences are remembered and leave positive, if done correctly, rather than negative impressions of a brand in the attendees’ minds.
Each of these organizations mentioned have mastered the art of creating an experience—even if only by hiring the right team of professionals to pull it off.