Non-political advertisers can still win in an election year.

By Egotist / /

A non-technical, semi-jargon filled analysis on how to approach local broadcast advertising during a political year in San Francisco. By Nick Fairbairn – Media Director: Engine Company 1

Most brands and advertisers know that the ongoing fight for share of voice gets even tougher during a political year. The media world sees an influx of proposition and candidate advertising each political year, which makes an already cluttered media environment much busier. By law, the media has to make a certain amount of inventory available for political advertisers. The price of the media is at a level playing field for these political advertisers through specific set political rates. There isn’t a premium non-political advertisers can pay to guarantee their buys run. Every paying advertiser has the political landscape top of mind, but not many advertisers really know how it will affect their advertising initiatives.

Just about a month or two ago, one of our clients asked if we should be doing TV this year or even radio for that matter due to this years political spending. That sparked our interest to dig deeper and figure out the political landscape in the San Francisco DMA to share with our clients and use as we plan and buy media throughout 2012.

To figure out this soon to be political puzzle, we took to our trusted relationships and connections within the local media. We talked to the top broadcast television stations, the local cable provider as well as a mix of music and news/talk radio stations in the market. We asked for their prediction and forecasts on political spending, specific windows, time periods and more.

First thing we figured out is that its evident the marketplace will be more cluttered during the summer/fall timeframe due to the predicted onslaught of political messaging. We have heard between $30MM to $50MM of incremental political advertising will be bought in this market alone within broadcast and cable television. We also found an additional $7MM to $9MM projected to be purchased in this market within radio.

Next we found that 70% of the spending is likely to hit in the 3rd/4th quarter specifically. The first window is the primary the second is the general election. Within these windows there are two types of political spending, Candidate and Proposition. The Propositions in California are where we are likely to see a good amount of action. There are a slew of issues that include but are not limited to tobacco, term limits, labor/paycheck protection and a bond to upgrade California water.

So…what does all this mean? We don’t have to be scared of political spending. Local advertisers can be successful a political year without spending 10% to 20% more. You just have to navigate the waters appropriately.

Laying in your buy early won’t do much for you but it might help, with radio specifically. Television will likely be the biggest player for political spending, it’s just a little too soon to know exactly how big of a political year it will be. Stations are predicting an increase in cost per points in the 10% to 15% range. Add on another layer, if automotive makes a comeback this year, those cost per points will likely be closer to 15% more year over year.

If there are two things to know on HOW to buy in a political year, it’s this:

• Figure out the political “windows” for TV and Radio. There are 2 windows to be aware of. A Q2 window and a Q3/Q4 window. Each station has a slightly different take but the general time frames are: Mid-April through early June as well as Early September through November 11th. Buy around these windows if you can.

• If you can’t buy around the windows, buy around the programming. Be aware of what formats or programming that will be impacted and avoid those. E.g. Local Broadcast TV News, Talk/News Radio, or cable news networks.

Our media team has been on both sides of the political media landscape over the years. Whether it was buying media for a ballot initiative for our San Francisco 49ers client to push through approval of the new stadium to buying around political spending for our Monterey Bay Aquarium client in past years.

It’s always an interesting game. We pride ourselves on our knowledge of this local market and like to think we keep some pretty great relationships with the media. That said, regardless of relationships, political advertising takes precedent, legally. It boils down to avails and when a market sees an influx of tens of millions of dollars, everyone is going to feel it. Not to mention by law the media has to have a level playing field with rates and avails for all political advertisers.

That said, don’t let political advertising get you down, we all can still WIN in an election year.

Engine Company 1’s media group represents a mix of regional, national and international clients. Some of these clients include The San Francisco 49ers, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, KGO-TV/ABC7, Jiffy Lube Bay Area, Panavision and Mozilla Firefox. To find out more contact: [email protected]


  1. anna April 9, 2012

    are networks bound by the the
    are networks bound by the the same political rules when it comes to super pacs???