Should You Use Newspaper, Radio and TV Advertising for Small Political Campaigns?

Political Radio

Newspaper, radio, and TV advertising are true “mass political marketing” mechanisms.  They broadcast your message to a wide audience, and because they do, each costs more than the per-voter cost of targeted direct mail.

That being said, radio and TV advertising, at least, can do something that no direct mail letter will ever do: they bring your candidate to life by letting voters hear (radio) or see and hear (TV) your candidate delivering his or her own message, meeting with voters, and answering critics.

In this article, we’ll go through the pros and cons of each of these three mass marketing techniques and learn more about how to use them in a political campaign.  We’ll start with the least effective of the three, newspaper advertising.

Read All About It: Political Ads in the Newspaper

Generally speaking, for campaigns, newspaper ads are not worth what they cost.

Newspaper ads, particularly in daily papers with large circulations, can be very expensive, yet most voters (and most consumers) ignore the ads in the paper.  Most newspaper readers read the news, but have trained their minds to filter out the ads, unless they are specifically looking for ads, such as in the car section.  For that reason, newspaper ads should generally be avoided by political campaigns.

Online ads on your local newspaper’s website, on the other hand, can be effective if they can be bought at the right price and if they are part of your overall online campaign effort.  But ads in the actual paper-and-ink newspaper are not worth what they cost.

If you do decide that you need to buy ads in the local paper, be sure to design your ad the same way you design your political direct mail – knowing that most voters will only look at your ad for 2 or 3 seconds.  Use big bold text focusing on your candidate name and message, make sure there is lots of white space, and use headlines and pull quotes to interest ad “skimmers.”  Don’t use lots of text – most newspaper readers are willing to wade through the text of the news they are reading, but unwilling to do the same to read a political advertisement.

Advertising on the Radio

Unlike newspaper advertising, radio ads can be very cost effective.  While they are not as closely targeted as direct mail (you can’t decide that you’ll pay for a particular voter to hear to your radio ad, but not his neighbor, as you would with direct mail), it is somewhat targetable in that you can decide which stations to run your ad on: news, sports, talk radio, adult contemporary music, top 40 music, etc.)

Voters need to see or hear your ad 5-7 times before it sinks in.

Also, unlike newspaper ads, radio advertising is unbelievably cheap on a per-ad basis.  While you may pay $10,000 to run a full page ad in a major metro daily newspaper, you might only pay $50 to air an off-peak 30 second ad on a radio station in that same city.

Bear in mind though that with radio advertising, repetition is key.  You’ll need to make sure that voters hear your ads over and over again if you want them to sink in.  It has been estimated that a voter needs to hear your ad 5-7 times before they really notice it and start to remember it… thus, you’ll need to air your ad dozens of times before individual voters start to hear it over and over again.

The keys to designing an effective radio ad are:

Keep it Short – Ads of 15, 30, or 60 seconds work best.

Say Your Name – Repeat the candidate’s name over and over again, wherever practical, in the ad to get voters to remember it.

Use as Professional – Don’t wing it.  Use a professional production company and professional voice talent to record your ad.  For extremely small campaigns, you may be able to bring professional talent into the radio studio where the ad will be run, and have them record the ad for you.  Whatever you do, not running radio ads at all is better than running ads that sound cheap and unprofessional.

Choose your Slots Wisely – Ads are priced based on when they run.  You can either choose to run an ad at a specific time (such as the AM and PM drive times / rush hours, which are usually the most expensive times) or to put them “on rotation” or “on rotation of schedule,” which means that the radio station can air them at anytime during their 24 hour programming day where they have extra time.  These rotation ads are very, very cheap, but watch out – your ads will end up running at 2am or 4:30am when very few people are listening.  Ads slots that cost more do so because more people are listening at that time.  Ask the radio station for their statistics of who is listening when, and make your time choices wisely.

So, when should you run your spots?  Let your campaign plan and the station’s audience statistics be your guide.  Remember, your goal is to have as many targeted voters as possible hear your message, for a reasonable price.  Spending money running ads at 3am on a top 40 station will most likely be cheap, but a waste of money.  Running ads at the AM drive on an all news station will get you a ton of listeners who are interested in politics but will be very expensive.  Decide how you can meet your voter contact goals and stay within your budget.

One final item as it relates to radio advertising: consider using a media buyer with political experience.  A “media buyer” is an advertising agency or consultant who negotiates rates, picks when and where to air your spots, and handles many of the technical details for you.  Find a media buyer with skill and political experience who can help you navigate the murky waters of paid advertising.

Getting on the Small Screen: Television Advertising for Political Campaigns

Far too many small campaigns think that they absolutely positively have to be on TV.  That isn’t true.  I’ve seen many small campaigns waste good money by putting shoddy campaign ads up at 2am for a couple of days and pat themselves on the back because they were on TV.  That money would have been better spent on direct mail, grassroots activity, or well-produced radio spots.

That being said, many medium and large campaigns can and should be using TV as part of their advertising mix.  TV advertising is expensive – the most expensive medium there is – so campaigns should be extra careful when planning their television advertising campaigns.

As with radio advertising, TV advertising is expensive, in part, because it reaches so many people – voters and non voters alike.  While you can target TV ads by choosing which stations you run ads on, it isn’t nearly as targetable as direct mail.  TV ads are powerful – they allow the viewer to see and hear your candidate, his or her family, and other voters who are interacting with the candidate.  They can draw a very emotional and positive response, if they are done correctly.

If you plan to run TV ads, hire an experienced political consultant.

The advent of cable television has meant many more targeting options for campaign TV ads and the ability of campaigns to run ads in select zip codes or towns.  This has brought down the cost of TV advertising for smaller local campaigns.  Even so, before buying TV spots, ask yourself if you really need to be on TV to win your campaign.

When using television advertising in your campaign, the best advice I can give is this: use a professional political media consultant.  Today’s political media consultants are well versed in campaign communications and know what works, and what doesn’t.  Hire a media consultant to oversee production and media buying of both your radio and TV ads.  Shop around for the best media consultant you can afford.  Check their references and negotiate their rates (in politics, as in business, everything is negotiable), then trust their expertise.  As in radio advertising, with TV is better to run no ads at all than to run cheap, amateur ads on the wrong stations at the wrong times.  Use your money wisely, and hire professional help.

Photo Credit: Museokeskus Vapriiki


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