Advertising in a Political Year

Jeff Heiniger

If you are a business owner, an election year shouldn’t affect how you market your business.  While political ad spending is definitely something to educate yourself on and be cognitive of, it should in no way, shape, or form impact your marketing strategy.  

With that in mind, what are some of the basics of how political spending can impact traditional advertising at the local level? 

A political window occurs 45 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.   During the political window, candidates are entitled to the lowest unit rates.  Inventory at a TV station is like seats on an airplane.  It is supply and demand.  High volume political spending affects station inventory, by driving rates up, due to the supply and demand aspect.  Because candidates are entitled to the lowest unit rate, selling rates are going to be higher than usual for key programming, during a political window.   

In a major political year, the most common question a customer will ask me is “how will political advertising affect our campaign?”  

There are ways to strategically buy around political placement.  We use our ratings software, to look for the most efficient buys.   There are hidden gems in every station’s program lineup.   We also stagger campaigns to buy stations that tier their rates in the lower priced weeks.  And we do a post buy analysis for all of our media buys, so if we are not delivered the rating points we ordered, the station will have to make up those points, with a bonus schedule.   All of this ensures that a client schedule will not suffer, because of political spending.   

All of that being said, we have encouraged all of our clients, to place their 2020 schedules annually, and almost all of our clients have obliged.   This has allowed us to use the same unit rates for the entire calendar year (political windows included), as opposed to waiting until later in the year, to find out that all of the seats on that imaginary airplane have been sold and we can no longer place a schedule with the efficiency model we desire.  Being the first one in should ensure that Ad Lab clients are the last transactional advertisers to experience a preemption, should a political buy create an oversell situation.

Being in a political window doesn’t mean local businesses have to stop advertising.   We will be meeting with our clients on a regular basis, throughout 2020, to make sure that our local advertisers are zigging when the politicians are zagging, and that should allow us to satisfy our campaign expectations.