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Media Matters | How Agencies Are Planning to Deal with Political Advertising This Year 


Last month, we issued an advisory bulletin to our members in preparation for approximately $9 billion this year in political advertising expenditures. The impact of that spending will definitely affect the media marketplace because the political advertising climate is expected to be very active.

At a recent meeting, the 4A’s Local Video/Audio Committee members discussed what agencies can do to deal with this activity on a local basis and how to manage advertisers’ expectations. Thanks go to Local Video/Audio Committee member Jennifer Hungerbuhler of Carat for drafting this report. 

Local stations have to take federal candidates’ advertising, but not for all state and local hopefuls. Stations must give candidates equal time; the four weeks preceding the election date are therefore the tightest for available inventory. On local TV, prime and the various news dayparts are typically the most affected by political advertising. Early/late fringe and access are ancillary dayparts but being used with increased frequency.

There is an expectation for more spending in national cable, which could relieve the pressure in local markets, but might also just be additional spending.

For radio, look for limited spending on News-Talk, AC and Country formats. Radio also sees money from displaced dollars due to the demand on TV.

The best bets for your clients?

  • Mind the political calendar. There will be several periods by market throughout the year where political rates will be federally protected, giving political buyers the station’s lowest unit rate (LUR) for a time period. These political periods are often where much of the spending occurs before elections and as a result where clients see the most missed spots. If possible avoid these weeks or, at the least, inform your client about the challenges they pose.
  • Avoid news dayparts or decrease your percentage of the daypart mix in them. Political / issue advertisers seek these areas out first for their “local” viewers and informational content environments. While all dayparts will likely see political / issue advertising, it’s best for an advertiser to spread the wealth to lessen impact of pre-emptions on any one daypart, especially news areas.
  • Greater flexibility with client guidelines: think ahead to allow greater flexibility with substitutions, upgrades and makegoods; a tiered list of options approved by a client upfront is a good start to allow a buyer space to navigate the marketplace.
  • Avoid bonus units during a political window. Again, anticipate client’s needs by creating alternative options.
  • Avoid “test buys” during political windows.
  • Bring clients into the scheduling conversations early. The more ammunition to arm them with the better prepared to tailor alternative recommendations.

It is up to the individual station (group) discretion/policy to pre-empt general advertisers based on last in/last out or spread evenly among or truly lowest rate.

SuperPACs will be a problem this year since they are not regulated and will be able to spend whatever they need to place their spots. Stations do not have to accept their advertising, but some want and need their dollars, which will displace regular advertisers.

Lastly, neither Presidential candidate has elected to take federal funds in this election thus avoiding the cap which will lead to increased spending.

Members predict that categories such as consumer packaged goods (CPGs) will probably be pre-empted first and that time-sensitive accounts will need to pay a lot more to stay in the market.

Another problem is that ratings have degraded over the years, so more units are being bought (by advertisers and politicians) from year to year to achieve the same weight levels. Using competitive reporting (e.g., MonitorPlus, Kantar), members can break out political advertising. One member said that they look at primetime levels on a station-by-station basis for one week to get an idea of activity. One example mentioned was that in 2010 on a San Francisco news station, 70% of the primetime ads one week in October were political.

See also Advertising in a Political Year resources compiled by the Television Bureau of Advertising, including:

  • A video blog by Steve Lanzano that discusses “Planning Local TV in a Political Year”
  • A white paper which lays out “The Impact of Political Advertising on TV Inventory in Political Years”
  • A regularly updated chart detailing “The 2012 Hot Races by State and Market”
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