How Do You Capture Part of the Billions Spent on Local Political Campaigns?

Capture Part of the Billions Spent on Local Political Campaigns

How big is the local political advertising pie exactly? MASSIVE. In fact, BIA Advisory Services predicts that $6.55 billion will be spent in local political advertising in 2020. That number is not a typo, it is an enormous opportunity.

We know there is a huge pie. How is it being divided and what media is getting most of the spending?  

  • Radio isn’t even forecast to attract 5% (roughly $312 million) of ad spending, with the balance set to go to other media.
  • Over-the-air (OTA) television will earn most of the ad spend (47% ) at $3.08 billion.
  • Online/digital outlets will receive $1.37 billion (21%)
  • $919 million (14%) will be spent on multichannel video programming distributors, or MVPDs.

Dr. Mark Fratrick, Chief Economist and SVP of BIA Advisory Services said, “Campaigns will continue to rely on television as a dominant platform for advertising while supplementing with digital advertising across mobile and desktop.”

It is also predicted that the quantity of political advertising will differ significantly from market to market, based on market size and the specifics of local elections. Los Angeles, Phoenix and Philadelphia are predicted to be the top three local political revenue-generating markets.

In each market, broadcast TV will receive more than $130 million in advertising, with over 25% of total spending going to online/digital. Direct mail, normally a dominant medium in other categories, will only capture a small percentage of market spend in general. (Hello, Household IP Targeting!)

What’s Different About Digital?

Now that we know where the money is being spent, how does buying digital political ads differ from buying for TV and radio?

To start, digital advertising is not covered by the “equal time” laws TV and radio must abide by (The Communication Act of 1934, section 315, instituted the “Equal Time Provision”). That drastically reduces the level of complications on inventory, and changes how local political campaigns are internally managed. 

How do politicians decide how much to allocate for ad budgets? To determine this, we can first look back at 2016 (the last big presidential election cycle offers the most ad spending data). The amount spent per eligible voter (using a political formula we will look at again later) increased to $40.87 in 2016 elections. Kip Cassino, the executive VP of research at Borrell, also noted that, “2016 turned the page on what will happen in political spending moving forward, because targeted marketing absolutely replaced mass media.” 

Campaign Dollars Go Local

We know there is massive budget and we know digital is taking a big portion, so what political campaigns should you go after for digital advertising? Local! Local races and ballot initiatives (city, county, district) are your hot tickets. There are endless types of local races: Mayors, Alderman, City Council, Clerk of Courts, County Treasurer, School Board Member, the list goes on and on. The budgets are not small; in fact, the average town council race candidate spent $47,000.00 in 2016.

How do you find out who is running? Get ready to Google! Go to the Secretary of State website and County Board of Elections website and look for “Elections.” Most will list all candidates who have filed, and some have alerts that will let you know when someone new files. Most will also list the address and contact name of the campaign manager as well as candidate names. Bingo! You know who is running and you know whom to contact!

You can also do an online search for “who is running for office in ____,” list your county and state and see what you find. You can also check out Ballotpedia.org. Search for news releases announcing candidacy—these releases will often contain the campaign managers info as well! Take your compiled list of names and search LinkedIn for shared contacts, or talk to local political parties to network and learn about local political consultants and agencies. 

Pitching Local Campaigns

Now that you know who to talk to, it is time to set yourself apart from other advertisers by using an outstanding valid business reason to get the appointment. Give the campaign manager or candidate a good reason why they need you and demonstrate you are thinking about the campaign from their perspective. 

For example:

  • Ask, “Do you want to reach Super Voters (people who have voted in the last three elections)?  We can use your Super Voter database to reach those people online.”  (Talk about Household IP Targeting, Native or FB Email Matching/Lookalike).
  • Ask, “Are you interested in targeting Hispanic voters with your online ads?” Be prepared to talk about all the ways you know how to reach the Hispanic market with their message. 
  • Pull political success stories that you have access to and share those.  
  • Emphasize you know local media and know how to get hyperlocal with digital advertising.
  • Let them know you can target exact households they want to reach using their database list of voters, at a high frequency. (Household IP Targeting).
  • Let them know you can target their email list of voters and serve those people ads when they browse websites and apps online (Native or FB Email Matching/Lookalike).
  • Talk about how you can target specific types of people by ethnicity, income, political affiliation, lifestyles, etc.
  • Ask the clients if they are Facebook-verified to run political ads—we are!

The Client Needs Analysis

Now that you have the appointment, do your homework and prepare for the Client Needs Analysis Meeting. Prepare questions like: 

  • Who is the target voter? (Age, gender, income, political affiliation, interests, etc.)
  • Where do they live? 
  • What is your “win number” (the number of votes needed to win)? Remember the formula I shared earlier? To help determine budget, slightly increase the amount spent per eligible voter in 2016 and set a budget: Votes Needed x $42.00.
  • Does the candidate (or issue campaign) have a database of names and addresses they want to target? 
  • Do they want to have different ad creative for different voter targets? 

Some final tips for a successful campaign:

Stay away from retargeting and conversion strategies—few voters go to candidates’ websites. Set the expectation that clicks and click-through-rates will be low. It’s not about clicks, it’s about votes! If using Household IP Targeting, the frequency needs to be VERY high—3x a day per household if possible. Time is of the essence; local political advertising typically starts 30-45 days from Election Day. Vici waives our 3-month minimum on campaigns for political advertising as we understand the urgency. Also note that all ads (display and video) must have a “paid for by” statement or they will not pass audit. The same is true for issue-related campaigns.

Keep in mind there is often a longer approval time before political campaigns start serving. Getting the campaigns 3-4 days (minimum) prior to launch is important. Also, for measurement of political campaigns, we recommend over-targeting a couple of areas to be able to give your clients results on how we impacted the campaign.

Now you are armed with whom to prospect, ideas on how much they are spending and where to prospect. Enjoy the races!


For assistance with your digital political needs contact preferred Second Wind digital partner, Vici Digital Media, Todd Schumacher: todd@vicimediainc.com

Dana Bojcic (how do you pronounce that? Boy-chich) is a Senior Partner with Vici Media, Inc., a full-service digital advertising technology company. Dana is an experienced trainer and coach of salespeople and managers. Her background includes working for advertising agencies and as a certified Talent Analyst.

© 2019 Vici Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.


See also: Gearing Up for 2020 Political Advertising

What Should a Political Ad Do?

Profiting from the Silly Season: Selling Election Year Ephemera


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