Cutting Presidential launch events penny-wise, dollar-foolish?

Published : 03/14/12
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The U.S. Mint’s decision to dispense with launch ceremonies for Presidential dollars is an example of a penny-wise, dollar-foolish reaction to the manic political atmosphere prevalent in Washington, D.C.

Mint officials justify the decision as one of cost-cutting, pointing to the fact that production of Presidential dollar coins for general circulation was suspended in December due to excessive inventories of the coins. The announcement was framed in a high-profile photo opportunity with Vice President Joe Biden in order to bring attention to the administration’s determined attempt to trim government spending.

If the Mint were not producing any Presidential dollars in 2012, we could buy the logic. But, the fact is the Mint will produce four 2012 Presidential dollars in circulation and other qualities and sell the coins as numismatic products at premiums above face value.

Queried as to the cost of Presidential dollar launch events, a Mint official reported the average cost of prior Presidential dollar coin launch events has been about $10,000, depending on location. The direct costs have included travel expenses for two to three Mint staff members coordinating and speaking at the event, background materials for the media, and a free coin given to each child under the age of 18 attending the event.

Since 2007 when the series was introduced, Presidential dollar coin launch events have been held at ancestral homes or sites important to the president being depicted on the coin, with most being located in the Eastern portion of the country. Typically, the launch events have attracted many people in various age groups from the general population as well as collectors in the local communities. The launch events have brought renewed attention to the historical sites and generated stories and headlines featuring the coins that standard Mint advertising would never have produced.

Were the Mint a private enterprise, the $40,000 spent yearly on the launch events would be looked upon as marketing and advertising expenses, a rather modest sum for introducing and creating interest in four new products.

Awareness events, such as coin launches, are difficult to measure in terms of direct sales as compared to print and broadcast advertising, so it’s easier to think of them as expendable versus other forms of advertising. Yet, maintaining awareness that 2012 Presidential dollars even exist will be a major challenge for the Mint. Although most collectors are aware that the series will continue to be produced and sold as numismatic products, many in the general public interpreted the December announcement to mean an end to Presidential dollars. Period.

The presidents being honored on 2012 dollar coins are Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland (twice) and Benjamin Harrison — not exactly the most well known presidents.

Yet, people in Vermont take pride in President Arthur having been born there and some New Yorkers may have a claim due to his long-time residence in the Big Apple. New Jersey claims President Cleveland as a native son. Both Ohio and Indiana take pride in associations with President Benjamin Harrison.

If Mint officials believe in their previously espoused statements that coin launch events are an “exceptional form of outreach to a wide base of individuals” and they “help to connect America through coins,” then we would suggest they are worth a second look for Presidential dollars.

Costs for 2012 could immediately be reduced to $30,000 or less because one event could serve to launch both Cleveland dollar coins. Also, the practice of giving a dollar coin to each child attending under the age of 18 should be reconsidered. There are likely many parents and grandparents who would be inclined to purchase a dollar coin as a souvenir for children and grandchildren. To entice sales at launch events, the Mint could offer to sell a dollar coin at face value to an adult accompanying each child under 18 and only allow one coin per child to prevent abuse of the limit. ■

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