Editorial: NATPE true?

Dec 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

It’s time for NATPE to come clean.
Electronic Media reported last week that New Orleans attorney Walter Wilkerson, after having been retained by the National Association of Television Program Executives, sent a letter to hotel operators in the Big Easy canceling all of the hotel room reservations for NATPE’s planned conventions in 2003 and 2004.
In the letter, NATPE cited as the primary reason for the cancellations “the events associated with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”
When we asked NATPE President and CEO Bruce Johansen to comment, he sent us a prepared statement saying that NATPE was working on a strategic plan for its 2003 convention that “may or may not involve New Orleans.”
NATPE gave the same statement to various media outlets in New Orleans that reported the story before EM did.
After all of these stories were reported, Mr. Johansen changed his tune.
At least one publication that did a follow-up story said Mr. Johansen told it that Mr. Wilkerson sent out the notifications to the hotels prematurely.
Earlier, Mr. Wilkerson had told EM that he had sent out the notifications “after consultation with the client.”
We also question, as did some of the New Orleans’ hoteliers, NATPE’s explanation that the 2003 and 2004 room cancellations were due to the Sept. 11 attacks, especially in light of the fact that NATPE has not canceled any rooms in Las Vegas for its upcoming convention in January. As Tommy Morel, New Orleans-area director for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, said, “If they’re canceling in ’03, they should be canceling in ’02. It sounds bogus.”
It sure does.
We’ve known Mr. Johansen a long time, and in our experience we’ve generally found him to be candid when dealing with the press.
It’s no secret that what’s really going on is that NATPE is struggling to survive. After years of threatening to pull out of NATPE’s annual convention, major domestic syndicators are doing just that in January. Clearly NATPE is scrambling to figure out how it can be relevant in the future. One solution is to have two separate confabs, one tied to the needs of the syndicators and the stations (and the international community) and one situated so syndicators can pitch advertisers. Two scaled-down gatherings might indeed be a smart solution.
Mr. Johansen is now saying that NATPE will officially tell the world next week its plans for the future. We sure hope that it marks a return of the forthright Mr. Johansen.