Monday, October 4, 2010

Journalism Expo showcases graduate schools and talking geckos

By Anthony Fenech

Why is Karen Burns here, at a journalism expo inside the grand ballroom of Planet Hollywood’s convention center, sitting behind a desk crowded with car insurance goodies?

Burns is an event coordinator for Geico, the car insurance company most famously known for its gecko mascot that reminds television viewers “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.”

Today, she is sitting in the back corner of the ballroom, behind a desk littered with Geico letter openers, Geico hats and yes, Geico gecko pens.

“I’m here to spread the word,” she says.

She’s here to spread the word about Geico, about car insurance, and about membership benefits some Society of Professional Journalists convention-goers might not know about. SPJ members may be eligible for the savings depending on what state they live in.

“It does turn some heads,” she admits, “Especially if it’s my first time at a place.”

Monday was Burns’ first time working at a SPJ convention and with an organization that can save you up to eight percent on car insurance with Geico.

It’s a slow day for her, but a fast day for her ballroom neighbor, Leon Braswell III.

Braswell, director of admissions and financial aid at Columbia University, travels to conventions across the country to meet prospective graduate students.

“Even with the light traffic right now, this year has been the best for me,” he says, nearing 5 p.m. “In years past, it has been tumbleweed slow.”

But the first of three expo days for Burns has been slow, not exactly tumbleweed slow, but slow.

“There were some people earlier,” she says, “But I heard it’s supposed to be busier tomorrow.”

She points at two stacks of black Geico hats to the left of her.

“And let’s hope so, because I have 250 of these hats to give away.”

She hands out pens that look – and talk – like the Geico gecko and funny ribbons that convention goers can stick to their name tags, reminding others that “I know what you did last convention.”

“A lot of the people aren’t aware of the benefits,” she says. “This stuff gets more people to the booth.”

And it’s that stuff that keeps the journalists coming to a car insurance booth among media companies, colleges, advocacy groups and government agencies.

“It’s worthwhile being here,” Burns says. “These are the people that we want to get to.”

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