Flexing Media Muscle During an Election Cycle: Winning the Political Game

Date: 2022-10-12 19:05:29
By: Cara Zimmerman
Date: 2022-10-12 19:05:29

red, white, and blue donkey and elephant

It’s the fall of an even-numbered year – which can mean only one thing: Your vote is up for grabs. Courting your checkbox are countless candidates, aspiring to broker power from the rural town halls to the vaunted halls of Congress, and willing to spend a king’s ransom to get there.

Estimated TV spend for the 2022 election cycle is expected to be in the 6 billion dollar range– making the case for the candidates they support while muscling out the consumer products and services that badly want to earn a share of wallet.

Buoyed by regulations which assure them of the LUR (lowest unit rate) for airtime, political campaigns effectively have roadblocked the airwaves – gobbling up the best positions and placements and leaving mere scraps between now and early November.

With a faltering global economy and swelling inflation, the stakes have never been higher for companies who badly need to lure dollars out of consumers’ purses and pockets. And despite the political pressures mentioned here, buying prime placements for non-political interests – though challenging – is still possible.

We’ve leveraged the expertise of the best in the media-buying business to assemble a list of ways that media buyers can thread the needle this election season – and, frankly, anytime a conquest of a competitive media marketplace is needed. 

Look to Other Media Vehicles 

Looking for the bleeding edge of media may just be the ticket to get out of the political thicket. Rather than being stuck on the sidelines, advertisers are pouring media dollars into options like streaming radio, connected TV, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other channels. Not only are these options more available and plentiful, but they provide the added bonus of being more targeted. 

“Fortunately, there are so many other media choices now, so if local broadcast is sold out due to political, you can buy other media channels,” said Lisa Branigan, Executive VP and Broadcast Media Director at Zimmerman.

“So where, 20 to 30 years ago, you just had local TV and radio to buy, you now have so many other choices,” Branigan added. “With so many other ways to buy around local TV, you can still get your message out to the consumer.” 

Branigan and her team are able to leverage tools like Z-Omni, a proprietary database that uses billions of distinct data points to help advertisers zero in on the right buyer, at the right time, through the right channels. 


Buy Ahead of Time 

To beat the political cash machine takes a game of speed – not endurance. The window for political advertisers to leverage the LUR opens at 60 days prior to the election in question. Thus, Zimmerman recommends aspiring ad-buyers to firm their placements at least 12 weeks (though even 8 weeks is not hopeless) before the quarter begins. 

The key for traditional advertisers from not becoming political collateral is to stay on top of your schedules and steward accordingly.

“We have no choice but to stay in front of it,” said Terri Papp, Executive Vice President and Media Buying Director at Zimmerman.

“This means calling the stations, knowing what is being preempted, asking for pre and post logs, and reviewing pricing based on historical evidence. Researching and understanding where the political windows are, what states and markets will be impacted the most, therefore those will be the ones to get ahead of” Papp said.


Look to Other Markets & Avoid Hotbeds 

When the mud is slinging and the atmosphere is particularly partisan, the markets can be even harder for traditional advertisers to crack. 

“Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Georgia, and Arizona traditionally are the five battleground states where the most money is thrown around,” Papp said. “Even Ohio and Wisconsin are getting hit.”

Prioritization of markets based on political hotbeds is a smart way of insuring advertisers are not competing against political dollars. But that cannot always be the case for every local advertiser since they need to advertise in their local market and can’t sit on the sidelines in Q4,” Papp said.


Just Say No 

Red do-not-use circle crossing a computer screen

More often than not, advertisers decide that it’s not worth the fight.  “Some clients have just flat out said no — and don’t want to compete with the political ads during the last few weeks leading up to November,” Branigan said. 

In this reality, it becomes a matter of getting creative – using the command of the client’s product and markets to suggest alternative media mixes. 

“Some clients simply don’t have a choice,” Branigan said. “Some have promotions that are tied to the weeks leading up to the election. So, we have to get very strategic and incorporate into other channels.”