As 2020 approaches, media organizations across the country find themselves needing to predict the impact of the volatile political category — for a presidential year that is expected to bring as much as $6 billion in media spending of what many predict could total $10 billion in overall campaign investments.
For the political strategists spending those billions, decisions about where to place that media is critical. Weighting traditional media and television is hotly discussed, even in the consumer press. Ultimately, for all of those decisions, even for national races, local impact on voters’ choices is essential.
In the nation’s largest, most complicated, and most expensive media market — New York — the stakes are particularly high. Television typically accounts for the bulk of political campaign media investments, and according to Casey Bessette, senior media buyer at Sage Media Planning and Placement, using television in New York can be uniquely challenging. She says that fragmented broadcast viewership across four major networks and several independent stations makes stretching a budget, while still achieving the frequency needed with key audiences, “difficult, but possible.”
Adding to the challenge, local campaign ads often focus on voters or issues in one state, when several states are covered within a DMA. “The ability to narrow your target audience and avoid unnecessary waste is invaluable,” Bessette said. That’s why placing media through an independent interconnect that brings media opportunities together for buyers is a tactic that savvy firms such as Sage often use.
Randi Langford, the New York Interconnect’s (NYI) vice president of programming, political, and interconnect sales, notes that Sage is one of about 15 major and “countless” other agencies that handle political and issue campaigns.
For Bessette and other strategists interested in using networks such as CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC to reach voters, the relationship with Langford and her team is vital, she says. Among other things, “Randi and her team give us access to one of our not-so-secret weapons to reach likely voters: local cable news channels, [including] Spectrum News NY1 and News 12.”
Langford, who has been with NYI since before it represented every MVPD in the New York market, acknowledges the value of the programming the company represents. “If we’re working with a [political] campaign in the five boroughs, Inside City Hall on NY1 is always on the buy. Or if the campaign is in the suburbs, Power and Politics on News 12 gets a lot of requests,” she says. “Campaigns also love the regional sports networks: the Knicks, the Rangers, the Devils. And, of course, entertainment networks that let candidates reach different types of audiences, [such as] Hallmark or Discovery Channel.” In Langford’s opinion, though, the ability to make effective planning easy for her clients is as important as access to popular programming.
“We work closely with Ampersand, with our partners and affiliates like Comcast, Charter, Altice, Verizon, and others, and with each agency to ensure that every campaign gets the turnaround, attention, and best possible tools for their needs. It’s a true partnership.”
One way the NYI team eliminates waste is that most of the political campaigns they place are “soft”; that is, they’re placed on individual cable systems versus running across the full NYI footprint. That minimization of waste is a key advantage because political campaigns can invest specifically in reaching only the homes that are relevant to their state and local races. “If it’s a Senate race in New Jersey, they don’t need the 4 million homes in our New York footprint,” Langford says. “With us, the candidate is what determines the footprint.”
Beyond minimizing waste, Langford’s team has access to the most up-to-date media tools and is using the time before the height of the political season to educate political and media strategists about what is available, as well as listening to them about what they need.
“We know a campaign does much better when it uses television and digital together,” Langford says. “Different providers can do different things, so we talk with the planning team about what’s best for the candidate, whether it’s using the OTT tools or addressable that Altice offers, or another partner’s IP targeting, for example. We can target or report using L2 data to segment audiences….
“If there’s a relevant eyeball, it’s my job to find it — and our job to make the best recommendations for each campaign based on what they need, regardless of whatever our own feelings might be.”
Langford has worked on every political flight NYI has managed since the summer of 2016, when she moved into political sales from a leadership role in general market sales. She says that the political role was a big change — and one she didn’t expect she would love so much. “Busy times aren’t 12 months a year; instead, it’s all about the 45 days before a primary, or the 60 days before a general election,” she says. “And everything needs to be turned around in 12 to 24 hours. When it hits, it’s like a tidal wave. The newest tools play a huge role. That’s exciting.”
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