Even if Centre College spent the millions it cost to put on last week’s vice-presidential debate on advertising instead, officials say the school could never come close to the kind of attention it got from the world’s media.
Michael Strysick, communications director at Centre, said initial data indicates the publicity value of the attention was at least four times greater than the initial cost.
“It’s going to be a really big number,” Strysick said.
The school, the smallest ever to host a vice-presidential or presidential debate, reportedly spent about $3.3 million to put on the event.
Strysick said there have been more than 10,000 media hits — any kind of coverage — since the debate was announced Oct. 31, 2011. The media presence in Danville for the actual event was every bit as large as the school anticipated.
The Commission on Presidential Debates reported 3,236 media personnel representing 1,542 organizations were credentialed. That included 574 foreign media, 306 of whom were broadcast personnel, representing 65 news organizations and 40 countries.
Centre works with the marketing company Vocus to assess how much bang the school gets for its advertising buck, as well as the value of various types of media coverage if the equivalent time, space or online placement were converted into advertising dollars.
Strysick, who noted that Antarctica was the only continent without some representation in the media hall, said he is working to assess the foreign media impact, which is not measured in the Vocus numbers.
One of the big surprises happened well after the media had left town. The opening skit on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was based on the vice-presidential debate and showed an actual photo of the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre.
Centre was referenced — and not as a punchline — by actor Taran Killiam, who was made up as a widows-peaked Paul Ryan during the skit lampooning the debate. The sketch opened with a prolonged still shot of the Norton Center for the Arts where the debate was held.
The media attention surrounding Thursday’s vice-presidential debate wasn’t reserved for the battle royal or the side stories about debate-related topics. In addition to reporting on campus tradition, media members also ventured into the surrounding community.
“What was really exciting for us, too, in addition to reporting on the debate, a lot of the journalists were interested in letting people know about the college, Danville and Boyle County,” said Strysick.
It is too early to say what kinds of benefits the school will reap from its raised profile. Strysick said the college is tracking traffic on its website to get a clue about how much interest was generated. It will take a while to see if student applications will be affected, but officials gave some credit for an increase in the quantity, quality and diversity of applications after the vice-presidential debate Centre hosted in 2000.
Other numbers from Thursday’s debate:
- 155 Centre College students were in the debate hall, which included 30 student ushers.
- About 500 students, faculty and staff served as volunteers. About 200 residents of Danville and people who traveled from other places also were volunteers.
- The Debate Festival, which ran from noon through the Marshall Tucker Band’s performance following the debate, had about 10,000 visitors throughout the day.