On Oct. 5, 2000, Centre College in Danville, Ky.—population 16,000—became the smallest campus in the smallest community ever to host a General Election Debate, an event dubbed the “Thrill in the ‘Ville.” The Associated Press commented that its execution was “as close to flawless as humanly possible,” and Dan Rather said, “Centre put on a five-start debate.”
Twelve years later, on Oct. 11, 2012, the College once again became the center of the political universe by hosting its second General Election Debate. The “Thrill in the Ville II” offered an opportunity for Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan to address questions on a range of domestic and international issues posed by moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News.
As before, Centre demonstrated that small places can do big things. “They aced it in 2000,” said Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, “and this year was even better.”
While Centre’s VP Debate registered 51.4 million viewers according to Nielsen, The New York Times pointed out that the debate competed that night with two key contests that may have drained off five to six million additional viewers: the Yankees-Orioles and Steelers-Titans games. Nonetheless, the 2012 VP Debate was the third-most watched debate, behind the 2008 Biden-Palin debate (69.9 million) and the 1984 Bush-Ferraro debate (56.7 million).
According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, 3,236 media personnel were credentialed, representing 1,542 news organizations from 40 countries.
To determine the public relations and marketing impact of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate, Centre contracted with Vocus and TVEyes, focusing on the date range of Oct. 31, 2011, when Centre received news it would host a debate, and Nov. 7, 2012, the day after the national election. Both services use industry standards to determine media values based on relative costs to purchase equivalent advertising.
Altogether, 17,404 media hits related to the VP Debate and Centre College occurred during this period. This number includes print, online, TV/radio, international and social media, along with wire service mentions, blogs and other media. The total value of these hits was calculated at $53,025,372.32.
A week-to-week comparison reveals that website visits increased more than 184 percent over the same time period last October. These included visits to Centre’s main website, its mobile site and a debate website.
The Debate also created lasting growth in Centre’s social media audiences. The Twitter audience increased 65 percent, and the Facebook audience increased 16.8 percent.
Reporters who visited Centre were fascinated by the College and Danville’s hospitality and local color.
Many outlets, including the Associated Press and Daily Beast, featured the “Thrill in the Ville II” poster. The poster was designed by Tom Sturgeon, associate director of design for brand and stewardship communications, and was accepted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History for its permanent collection.
Other major media networks highlighted Centre’s unique traditions—like the debate attendance of “Dead Fred,” a reference to alumnus Fred Vinson, Class of 1909, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The two Centre alumni who have served as vice presidents (John C. Breckenridge and Adlai E. Stevenson) was also reported on, for instance by USA Today.
In keeping with the tendency to paint the College as a place of disproportion that consistently punches above its weight, several media outlets also ran stories about the College’s 1921 6-0 football victory over then national powerhouse Harvard, affectionately referred to at Centre as C6H0. Finally, an AP photographer was especially taken with the media credentials that appeared on Centre’s Abraham Lincoln statue.
Of the 17,404 total hits, the top two media platforms, by coverage, were online and TV/radio.
• Online: 9,530
• TV/radio: 4,152
• “Other” (includes blogs, wire service mentions, etc.): 2,002
• Social media: 1,163
• Print: 353
• International: 204
Of the $53,025,372.32 total media value, TV/radio enjoyed the lion’s share, a total of $32,966,887.63 (or 62 percent). This was no doubt helped in part by a Saturday Night Live skit that was the most popular TV event the evening of October 13, 2012, excerpts of which were rebroadcast on Sunday morning news programs like “Face the Nation” and weekday morning programs like “The Today Show.”
Other metrics for circulation and viewership include:
• Online viewership audience: 9,864,437,187
• Print circulation audience: 146,772,167
• National TV network audience: 144,735,860
• Local TV network audience: 125,048,896
The most important front-page splash was the image of Centre students Ben Boone, Tommy Munoz and Alex Birmingham standing in for the candidates and moderator. The USA Today image was similar to what appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal on 10.11.12.
Using Google Analytics, a 184 percent increase in traffic to Centre’s main website was calculated when comparing October 1–15, 2012, to October 1–15, 2011. Adding traffic to Centre’s mobile site—new this year—increases overall traffic by 204 percent.
During the week of October 8–12, traffic to the specially created debate website generated 98,931 unique page views.
Online town hall forum: “Our Voices. Our Future.”
To create a uniquely educational experience for students beyond its campus, Centre partnered with Connected Nation and 10/20 Digital to host an online, election-themed town hall for students. This was the initial project of the newly created Global Center for Connected Campuses, or GC3.
Moderated by Renee Shaw, a highly acclaimed journalist from Kentucky Educational Television (KET), the panel discussion included Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes; Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky Secretary of State and director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics; and representatives from Centre College Democrats and Centre College Republicans.
More than 3,000 students from 48 states and 14 countries participated in the event in the Vahlkamp Theater, including 150 high school and college students.
Social media and audience growth
Centre utilized social media during the debate and saw success on both Twitter and Facebook.
More than 50 Centre students served as Twitter ambassadors, revealing to the world the transformations that took place on campus in the weeks prior to the debate; providing on-the-ground coverage on debate day; welcoming guests to campus; expressing gratitude to the College for offering them the chance to witness this event; and encouraging others—students, parents, alumni and the public—to join in the conversation.
By the end of Debate Day, #centrevpdebate, Centre College and Danville all trended on Twitter. Over the course of the 92-minute debate, Twitter recorded 3.5 million tweets. While Vice President Biden’s “That’s a bunch of malarkey” caused 31,008 Tweets Per Minute (TPM), even greater peaks occurred when Vice President Biden said, “Now you’re Jack Kennedy?” (58,275 TPM), and when Congressman Ryan said, “They got caught with their hand in the cookie jar” (55,540 TPM).
The College Twitter, @CentreC, experienced a 65 percent audience increase, growing from 1,456 followers in March to 2,403 followers in November 2012.
Centre College’s Facebook page increased its audience from 5,377 followers in January 2012 to 6,283 followers in November 2012—a 16.8 percent increase.
In terms of “virality”—that is, the amount of times a Facebook post is re-shared—the top debate-related Centre Facebook items were:
1. Photo of Centre’s Lincoln statue with Debate credentials
2. Centre 2012 VP Debate photo album
3. Debate by the numbers image
4. President Roush’s comment during his CSPAN debate welcome: “It’s not heaven. It’s Centre College in Danville, Ky.”
5. “Top 10 Things to know about Centre” contained in the Debate media kit
by Michael Strysick, Director of Communications, and Laura Pritchard, Assistant Director of Communications for Marketing and Public Relations
November 29, 2012