The Buck Stops Here

By Will Hornbeck, Assistant Media Buyer

Now that we’ve turned the page to a new year, it’s important to understand that in the media world, not all years are created equal – there are election and non-election years, with 2022 being the latter. Soon, we’ll start to hear the pervasive sound of political advertising with politicians’ booming voices, stating firmly what his or her campaign stands for and why we should all vote for them.

However, on the media planning side, there is more to an election year than simply what the public sees, especially for local and regional advertisers also known as small to mid-sized company owners and marketers wanting to include election-year spots in their media plans. For example, many of our agency clients fit the home and commercial service businesses such as roofers, plumbers, HVAC installers and pest control companies, and buying media for these companies in a political cycle requires foresight, adaptability and the know-how to keep clients on the air and in front of the right target audiences without breaking the bank or their media plans.

There are several reasons media buying can be challenging during a political cycle. One reason is relating to the lowest unit charge—or “Lowest Unit Rate”— effectively, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandates that all political advertisers can buy spots at the lowest rate that a station has available for its time slot. This means that starting in the political window—September 9 for this year—there will be an influx of adverting those stations are required to run. Unless the advertiser wants to pay significant rate increases to outspend other non-political advertisers, expect fewer overall spots to run due to the competitive forces of these low-rate spots gobbling up available airtime.

Another twist is the importance and inventory of different programs. Most people placing political ads want to run in new programming. Therefore, it’s safe to anticipate a shortage of availability in local and cable news stations as well as news radio programming. In addition, battleground states such as Florida, Georgia and North Carolina will all be inundated with federal, state and local candidates competing to get their messages on the air, creating an even greater supply-demand imbalance.

So, what can an advertiser do to tread the murky waters of a political season?

Our first suggestion is to study up on what a political cycle will look like in your target market. We all know when elections are coming, so the political cycle should come as no surprise. Keep a close eye of what elections are coming up and plan accordingly. Anticipate higher prices and fewer available spots in news programing and schedule your buy accordingly.

The second tip we offer is to keep an open mind, remaining flexible regarding different ways to get your company’s message across. For example, the fourth quarter might be a good time to shift advertising dollars from television to digital or switch to an alternative cable station that targets the same, or similar demographic. The political cycle could be the perfect time to experiment with something new without exceeding the media budget.

Finally, consider bringing in an experienced media buying team, who is dedicated to thoughtful planning and stewardship of your media investment.

Did you know if the advertiser is currently buying direct from the networks, they often can bring on such a partner a little to no incremental cost, due to the nature of how networks sell ads to agencies? Yes, it’s true and can make your media planning go quite smoothly.

Planning in a political cycle can be the cause of many a headache and frustration, especially if you’re not experienced with election year ad buying. So, why not let a team of skilled, expert media planners and buyers help you take charge, getting the best bang for your advertising buck?

Will Hornbeck is an assistant media buyer with Moxē Integrated Marketing