CNN Hotspot is More Than Just A Grill

By Chris Ariens 

A few weeks after the announcement that St. Paul would host the 2008 Republican National Convention, CNN had secured a deal to take over a restaurant adjacent to the Xcel Center. Just like Brooklyn’s in Denver last week, the Eagle Street Grill in downtown St. Paul was transformed into the CNN Grill, a restaurant that is more marketing vehicle that culinary destination (although the food is really good).

Scot Safon EVP and chief marketing officer for CNN Worldwide says the concept began in New York at the 2004 RNC as a way to combine various CNN entities under one roof. “Production wanted to do shows, ad sales wanted to do lunches with advertisers, affiliate relations…and talent…everybody wanted some piece of it,” says the six-year CNN veteran.

The Grill is a working restaurant with breakfast and lunch/dinner menus from New York restaurateur Danny Meyer. And when CNN took over, they really took over. The walls were painted CNN red; there are 18 different pieces of neon art, “destination signs,” Safon calls them, emblazoned with the CNN logo; and there are more TV monitors than even the best sports bar of this size should be allowed to have, including a 32″ monitor in the one-stall bathroom.

When it’s all over, the TVs will come down and the neon goes back to CNN offices in Atlanta, New York and Washington to be used in employee areas.

Even though it might have meant a loss of business, Safon says the restaurant owners in Denver and St. Paul were receptive to the idea. Without discussing what CNN paid the owners, Safon says, “We gave them their business for this time, we’re hiring a lot of their staff, and they recognize that it was a public relations opportunity for them.”

As for CNN, there’s money to be saved. Safon says if the many CNN parts had gone off and booked multiple venues it would have cost “a good half a million dollars more than we wanted to spend, in both cities.”

And parked outside the grill, the CNN Election Express Bus. TVNewser got a tour Tuesday afternoon…

Click continued to see Part II…