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A Q&A About Media Buying During Political Season

Political season is in full swing, and for those of us buying media for clients, it can pose some challenges to facilitating a campaign. Often, those who are engaging in political advertising will buy up large amounts of inventory which requires an agency to think outside of the box when media planning. We sat down with our Senior Manager of Media Planning and Partnerships to break down what implications political advertising has on marketers and advertisers.

What is political advertising?

Political advertising occurs every other year, or during a special election, to influence decision makers within a specific group or community.

Is there a difference between local and national political seasons?

There are 2 political windows during each election year, one for the primary election and one for the general election. Political windows occur approximately 45-60 days prior to each voting period. Primary elections within each state can vary so it’s important to communicate with all advertising reps prior to media planning during an election year to confirm political window dates, rules, and expectations.

Are advertising spots reserved for political or is it first come first serve?

Broadcast advertising can be tricky during a political window. It can be hard to determine the budget amounts that will be spent during a political window, so it’s best to communicate with local advertising reps for information on candidates and initiatives that we be on the upcoming ballet. It’s important to know what campaigns are expected to spend the most money during the window and how it will impact the market inventory.

Although there is no special way of blocking inventory for political advertisers ahead of the window, it’s important to know that political advertisers pay top dollar to secure program inventory and typically place the buys 1-2 weeks out. Due to FCC regulations, station determines in advance the LUR (Lowest Unit Rate) for each program. If a station sells below the program LUR, the political advertiser receives a credit.

Note: there are ways of receiving rates below the LUR’s including daytime rotations, and shorter spot lengths. Non-political advertisers should consider non-spot advertising options like sponsorships or digital media solutions.

What is the most effective channel to advertise on during political season?

For a non-political advertiser, it’s best to turn to media that usually aren’t as affected by political pressure including print, digital, or outdoor. This could be a great opportunity to try something different, that is just as effective.

How much do media rates increase during the political season?

Media rates increase according to the LUR and inventory pressure based on the political market conditions. Plan ahead when negotiating rates. Be aware of any station offering low rates during a political window. Since political advertisers typically have large budgets and pay top rates, any non-political advertiser paying low rates are most likely to get preempted and most of the schedule will not run.

Is non-political advertising during the political season effective?

Non-political advertising can be effective with proper planning ahead of the campaign.

Many non-political advertisers skip advertising during this time due to inventory pressures and special rules so it’s important to get a gauge on market conditions prior to the political window. Political advertising can be hard to predict and market spend could be lower than expected which means lower LUR’s due to less inventory pressure.

Kathy McBride has over 15 years’ experience buying, strategizing and selling media across San Diego County.