Magazine article ADWEEK

The Money Trail: How the Presidential Candidates Are Doling out Their Advertising Dollars

Magazine article ADWEEK

The Money Trail: How the Presidential Candidates Are Doling out Their Advertising Dollars

Article excerpt

Alex Castellanos doesn't have any pretensions about his role in the business of politics. "My job is to get candidates and bottle them," says Castellanos, president of Alexandria, Va.-based advertising consultancy National Media Inc. Among his past bottling efforts are President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. This time around, he's strategizing the advertising of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his bid for the presidency.

"The world has changed tremendously in the last few years, and it's turned my business upside down. Jesus, this is turning into a lot of work," he says, with tongue firmly in cheek.

Work, indeed. Castellanos and his team are among the political consultants that are finessing a kind of climate change on the current election season, flowing a tsunami of advertising cash into media much sooner--and with different buying strategies--than ever before.

Just after Labor Day, Evan Tracey, COO of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis in Arlington, Va., estimated that the TV sector had written up $10 million in business from presidential candidates year to date. As of last week, that figure had risen to $16.87 million.

Romney has outspent all the Democratic contenders combined. So far, he's plunked down $8.5 million for TV ads alone. Nielsen Monitor-Plus data allows for an even clearer picture of how things are changing: National cable networks sold 301 ad units between January and Sept. 2, 2007. That compares with a mere 19 units sold over a 15-month period during the last presidential cycle,January 2003 to March 2004. Similarly, radio rang up sales for 1,258 units as of Sept. 2, 2007, versus just 882 for the same 15-month 2003-04 cycle.

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Clearly, the heat wave has just begun. Tracey expects before the current year has ended, the media world will have digested some $700 million in political advertising sales. All told, at least $2.7 billion in political ad spending is expected to flood in the doors of media companies before Election Day in November 2008, according to Tracey, who says that figure is on the conservative end of the spectrum. That would represent a $1 billion bump above spending during the 2004 presidential election cycle.

And the fun won't stop in 2008. Even though 2009 is an off year for elections, Tracey expects that issue advocates--immigration, healthcare, energy, taxes and education--will add a spending afterglow.

The 2009 spillover is just one of many reasons why the 2008 election cycle will be like none before it. First, the crush of primaries in January and February will instigate an early rush of advertising, likely hitting a high point in December and January. There is also the recent Supreme Court ruling that allows issue advocates, 527s and labor unions to spend earlier and with fewer restrictions.

On top of that, almost every single presidential contender is opting to go off the federal fundraising system, enabling them to raise and spend as much money as possible.

Cable vs. Broadcast

Clearly, TV stations will be the primary recipients of the ad spend, particularly in early morning and evening news, along with primetime. Chris Rohrs, president of the Television Bureau of Advertising, says he expects costper-rating point and cost-per-thousand to rise about 10 percent in battleground states. And just about everyone notes that because TV stations can't absorb all the candidates' cash, the influx of dollars will benefit all media sectors.

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Yet campaigns are rethinking their media strategies. "There are so many new tools available to us, everything from cable to search to social networking sites," says Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of the Washington-based New Democratic Network, which recommends ad strategies to Democratic candidates and is creating a series of party-building spots. "People need to experiment with all these new tools. …

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