The 2022 mid-terms are shaping up to be an unprecedented political event.
- A possible $9 billion dollars spent would be the most expensive mid-term ever.
- While broadcast TV is still the key media, expect as much as $1.5 billion in political to be spent on CTV.
- There are over 2000 contested political races across the country, including 36 gubernatorial, 435 U.S. House, and 34 U.S. Senate races. The rest are local and state elections.
The political window doesn’t mean that advertisers should entirely go dark, nor does it mean we should spend like lottery winners. Our clients should pace themselves and anticipate challenges. With flexibility and communication between planners, client liaisons, and buyers, advertisers can still enjoy fruitful campaigns.
Political media basics
Federal candidates are guaranteed “reasonable access” to spots. Stations can’t deny candidates spots or limit the number of spots they buy. Stations can set limits to state and local candidates, but they still enjoy Lowest Unit Rate (LUR) rules.
- Political windows are the 45 days before a primary or 60 days prior to the general election. In 2020, the political window opens on Friday, September 9, 2022.
- Lowest Unit Rates (LUR) is the amount offered or charged to the station’s most preferred advertiser. Candidates must be guaranteed the LUR.
- Reasonable access means that stations must sell time to federal candidates like President, Vice President, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, without limitations to spot access. They can buy as many as they want. Stations can limit the federal spending in news programs, but they must be consistent and not limit to one party. No favoritism.
Suggestions to combat inventory pressure
- Buy early and revise if necessary. The best way to avoid the uncertainty of political windows is to buy before your competition or political candidates do. Plan and buy multiple quarters at a time. Be in the market at least a quarter ahead. To crush that Fall political window, plan for an early summer spec release. You can always revise your schedules within a two-week window. It’s easier to revise than realize you have nowhere to go.
- CPPs will inevitably go up in political seasons. Demand varies by market/state, and the battleground states will receive more spending than the reliably partisan ones. However, all markets see more politics than in the past. Due to PACs and limitless fundraising, war chests are full and candidates spend voraciously. A good rule of thumb is a 5% – 8% increase over previous year to account for raised rates inside the primary and general election windows.
- Be flexible with your dayparts, programming, and makegoods. Many local advertisers like heavy local news in their daypart mix. Unfortunately, in a political year, those are also the dayparts that candidates crave. Look toward other areas.
- Avoid news magazine programs or Sunday political talk shows where politicians editorialize. Those will become target programming for competing political ads.
- Most political airs in EM, DT, EN, LN.
- Prime Access and Prime are expensive but may have more open avails.
- Late Fringe may offer more value than DT or EF.
- Be open to cable. Allow dollars to shift to cable networks where they have more insertable networks. Even cable news may have more avails than local news in battleground states. There are enough local breaks on most cable networks to mitigate political candidates’ logjam.
- Explore other video alternatives. Pre-roll video, Video-On-Demand, and CTV are available locally and stations are eager to sell these venues. Diversifying your plans keeps the money in the market. Your spots will work for alternative videos with no extra effort.
- What about local radio? While News/Talk/Sports radio formats naturally attract political traffic, most mainstream radio stations are slower to get in on candidates’ spending. Most politicians wait until right before the election to purchase heavy radio schedules. Moving campaign money to radio will increase reach and frequency for media plans without breaking the budget.
- Consider sponsorships and non-traditional alternatives. Advertisers can buy packages and sponsorships on local stations that are considered protected schedules. They aren’t subject to bumps by candidate ads and are typically non-cancellable. The deliverables include a sponsorship mention, usually with a logo and :03 copy, and are typically followed by an adjacent :30 or :10. These range from news billboards, weather bug, crawl messaging, community calendars, sports updates, etc.
- Added Value is spartan, if not non-existent. Stations rarely capitulate to added value demands during political windows. Buying teams and advertisers should be flexible or creative. Negotiate for the added value to air before or after the political windows. Some stations will offer more creative solutions. Be open and flexible.
What markets should we avoid? Is anywhere safe?
We don’t have to avoid any state or market, but we must be smart about when we go in, what media we are planning, and how flexible our parameters can be. Some states will see more competitive primaries than general elections. That said, some states expect more dollars than others:
Hottest states for 2022 political spending:
Florida – Gubernatorial
Ohio – Senate
Pennsylvania – Senate
Arizona – Senate
North Carolina – Senate
Michigan – Gubernatorial
Texas – Gubernatorial, House (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Laredo)
Georgia – Gubernatorial, Senate
Nevada – Senate
Wisconsin – Senate, Gubernatorial
Wyoming – House (at-large)
What happens after the election?
Just as all the ballots are unlikely to be counted by Wednesday, November 8, the day after the election doesn’t signal an all-clear for advertising to return to normal.
Many non-political spots will be left on sales department floors. Stations and buyers will begin the mad scramble to get what’s been preempted in the previous weeks back on air in-flight. Expect there to be a frenzy of ad activity in the November election’s aftermath. It takes a little time for things to normalize after the general elections… if there’s ever a “normal” in our business these days.