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Image blitz planned for convention

Organizers eye positive theme to sell Hub

Organizers of the Democratic National Convention are launching an image-enhancing publicity blitz that includes speeches at historic sites, TV ads, and informational booklets full of pro-Boston facts, bound for reporters around the country.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino wants to improve Boston's image around the country with what his planners call the most comprehensive preconvention marketing campaign a city has ever mounted. National Democrats, meanwhile, are also planning steps to put a positive spin on Boston in a way that benefits Senator John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democtratic presidential nominee.

Menino, Chris Gabrieli -- his point man on convention marketing -- and two of Boston's high-powered advertising firms will announce plans tomorrow for a "Boston brand," to be pitched locally and nationwide.

With the word innovations as a central theme, the Celebrate Boston 2004 campaign will draw on Boston history, playing up the city's role as a pioneer of American civic, economic, and scientific life.

The theme is meant to encompass the first stirrings of the Revolution and abolitionism, highlighting Boston as a center of educational excellence and technological and medical advances.

The campaign aims to undo old images of a traffic-bound, racially torn city and remake Boston's image as a glittering mecca of democratic ideals and a desirable tourist destination.

"Everyone always cleans up their house and thinks about what photographs are on the table if they have important visitors," said Gabrieli, who heads the marketing efforts for Boston 2004, the convention's host committee. "It's an opportunity to define Boston and reaffirm that definition of Boston to ourselves, and to the world."

The campaign also has a second purpose: Coming after a long string of grim headlines about stalled fund-raising, labor unrest, and predictions of traffic nightmares during the convention, it's meant to make Boston residents feel good about the convention when 35,000 delegates swoop into town in late July.

Since the vast majority of those who live and work in the city will not get to attend the round of glitzy convention parties or partake in the hoopla, the local campaign includes nearly a month of neighborhood festivals and concerts in the weeks before the convention begins July 26.

"It's important that the people who live in our city feel part of the convention," Menino said.

The host committee's marketing plan is being designed and implemented through in-kind donations, provided by local ad giants Arnold Worldwide Partners Inc. and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc.

Air time and print space have been donated by media organizations, including the Globe.

The marketers are also distributing 16-page, spiral-bound brochures to reporters, with ideas for feature stories -- and suggested camera shots -- at sites around Massachusetts and New England. They'll follow up with regular e-mails to national and international media organizations, with nuggets of information they hope will draw interest when 15,000 media representatives come to Boston for the convention.

In an effort to dispel old images of Boston as a city of racial strife, one of the honorary cochairs of Celebrate Boston 2004 will be former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, who will appear in ads and at publicity events. Russell had criticized Boston's racial polarization during his playing days of the 1950s and 1960s but has since praised the city's turnaround.

The campaign also plans to launch a community planning organization at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury, one of the city's most ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

Democrats nationally are also planning an effort to showcase Boston. Officials from the convention committee are scouting historic sites in and around Boston as possible locations for preconvention speeches and party events. Among the possible sites are the USS Constitution, battle sites in Lexington and Concord, and the Old North Church, where the lanterns that launched Paul Revere's ride were placed.

`We're going to use Boston to provide context and backdrop for the convention and the Democratic Party platform," said Peggy Wilhide, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention Committee. "Boston stands for and embodies so many of the things that are important in this election -- patriotism, health care, education."

In this election, when the presumptive nominee lives in a stately house blocks from the convention hall, Democrats and city leaders see a rare opportunity.

"You have a candidate who can walk from his home to the convention," said Mike Sheehan, president and chief executive of Hill, Holliday. "This will be more about the home and the home game than any other convention, because it's John Kerry."

Democrats plan to point out the fact that the city was home to the first public school and the first public library, and has some of the best healthcare and research institutions in the world.

"The convention is not just in the hall," Wilhide said. "It's all over the city."

Menino, who along with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, helped lure the Democrats to Boston, has long spoken of the convention as a way to draw tourism dollars to the city. He tapped Gabrieli, a former venture capitalist who has run unsuccessfully for Congress and lieutenant governor, to maximize the city's ability to sell itself.

The marketing efforts will be to reinforce the positive contributions in the city, Sheehan said.

"People are hearing all the negative things about the convention," said Barbara Reilly, an executive vice president at Arnold Worldwide who has led the agency's work on the campaign. "But we all do better when our city does better. There is so much unique about Boston, so much to celebrate."

If all goes according to plan, the marketing and outreach will leave convention-goers with a positive vision of Boston, and Boston residents feeling that the convention was worth the hassle, Gabrieli said.

"If this ignites something that will last beyond the convention, then it will be worth it," he said.

Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@globe.com.

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