When Your Ads Clash With Politics

Plan now for the 2020 campaign season

With a long history as a broadcast journalist, I am fantastic working under short time deadlines.  Long term deadlines – not so much.  Give me six months to plan something, odds are I’ll wait until the last minute and adrenaline forces me to move quickly and efficiently.  

Something is taking place next year that will force me outside of my comfort zone.  I will be forced to plan events a year out. That “something” is the 2020 election cycle.

As a reporter I would love political campaigns.  I worked as a state capital reporter and the election was the Super Bowl of politics.  It resulted in long hours but for me it was great fun.  As a media planner, I start to worry about the next political cycle as soon as the last political cycle is over.

Think about this number for a moment.  In the 2016 election, campaigns for federal office cost $6.5-Billion. With that massive amount of money spent, the $27-million spent on Michigan state house seats seems to be almost chump change.  Add senate seats and ballot issues and you’re talking about a significant amount of money.

The 2020 campaigns are sure to be even more expensive.  We have a Presidential election, a Michigan US Senate campaign, US congressional seats, state house seats and more ballot issues. Campaign fundraising is in high gear right now and the pressure to raise more money will be more intense throughout this year.

When a campaign has tons of money and is behind in the polls, they don’t really care how much a radio or TV spot costs, they will pay whatever it takes.  Political media planners can spend like drunken sailors on payday.

So if you have a business that regularly depends on mass media advertising to get your message out, you have a problem.  The drunken sailors are out in the market and ready to pay whatever it costs to buy the ad you want, from under you.  If a radio station can sell a spot for $300 instead of the $30 you are going to pay – guess what the sales manager is going to do?  You guessed it, they are going to take that $300 ad.

So now is the time all media buyers should be working on their 2020 media plans.  There are things that can be done to protect your ads.  It does mean making some commitments and having a clear understanding of your media budgets for next year.  You can take action now to assure you will not have all your ads bumped by political campaigns.

Consider some of these tactics:

  • Make an annual commitment, and make it early.  It doesn’t guarantee your spots will run.  But typically if you are the first in, you can be the last one to be bumped.  Candidates can’t and won’t buy an annual contract.
  • Sponsorships – It could be sponsoring the weather, the sports report or the daily trivia question.  Sponsorships require a longer commitment that political campaigns won’t do.
  • Streaming TV – OTT advertising is a way to reach an audience that doesn’t normally watch regular TV.  You can target demographics and geographic locations.  You pay per impression and target viewers on tablets, desktops and mobile devices.  It’s a way to get a share of audience that could dry up during political windows.
  • Be financially flexible.  You may have to pay a little more for your ads during the political windows, but hold the station’s feet to the fire.  Make sure they are flexible too.  They may have to bump you this month, but maybe they can give you two spots next month.  If you are a regular advertiser they value your business because you are with them in the busy months and the slow months.

I hesitate to include this, because it will be viewed as self-serving.  In reality it is self-serving.  But this is also a good time to consider hiring an ad agency.  The agency should have more clout because they are buying for multiple clients.  They should also have a better handle on competitive rates and ratings.  They should also know your targeted audience and alternative programs that could target that audience. Political campaigns will generally target news programming, but you may be able to hit a similar audience with other programming at the station.

2020 will be a year that I watch the political campaigns in amazement.  I still love following politics.  I will still get frustrated when a candidate bumps my client’s ad.  But as long as campaigns cost billions of dollars, that is going to happen.  Now is the time to plan for the inevitable.   

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