New York Interconnect Offers Strategies for Political Advertising In a Year Like No Other



Cynopsis Medias First Morning Read

New York Interconnect Offers Strategies for Political Advertising In a Year Like No Other

Cathy Applefeld Olson

The stakes have never been higher. Across the television and digital landscape, political advertising already has hit a colossal $6.7 billion, according to new data from Advertising Analytics. With just two weeks to go before election day and the likelihood of ads running well past November 3, getting the right messaging, media mix and time slots are critical decisions today that no doubt will inform future political buying cycles.

For the webinar, “Welcome to the Jungle – Political Media Buying in 2020,” sponsored by New York Interconnect, Cynopsis sat down with four industry stalwarts—Randi Langford, VP, political and programming sales at New York Interconnect; Casey Bessette, partner/media strategist at Sage Media; Leah Casterlin, founder/partner at Media Fortitude; and Patti Heck, president of Crossroads Media—to parse learnings from an election year like no other.

“Political advertising is one of the only areas that hasn’t seen a huge slowdown this year; it’s gone the opposite way,” says Bessette. “Candidates can’t campaign the way they normally do. They can’t go door to door, they can’t hold rallies. So advertising is one of the best ways politicians can get their message out and communicate with voters, who are largely staying in their homes.”

The upshot: A multi-screen approach is a necessity in today’s viewing climate if campaigns want to message to the masses. “We did a little bit of digital at the back end of 2018, for the primary in New York,” Langford says. “But we really started using digital on a much bigger scale in 2020—one of every three or four campaigns. It’s much more the norm now.”

Langford, Bessette, Casterlin and Heck share stories from the trenches in a roundtable conversation that can be accessed free using this link: They offer more insights below.


Accelerated Calendar, Expanded Day Parts

With shifts both in early voting and vote by mail, the timing of year’s political media cycle accelerated dramatically this year.

“We don’t have an election day, we have an election season now. That changes how plans are being built out,” Casterlin says. “We need to be heavier earlier when ballots are first being laid out instead of just doing a big push the last two weeks. Some of our clients wanted to be heavier then, then maybe light in the middle and then heavier going into election day.”

“You can’t, like a lot of campaigns used to do, go up to two weeks before election day and get your message to voters,” Bessette says. “That doesn’t work anymore so we’re seeing a lot more groups that started in July and August and are planning to stay up through the election.”

With the pandemic forcing most of the country to stay home beginning in mid-March, viewing patterns underwent seismic shifts that opened new opportunities never considered ripe for a political buy.

The scenario where suddenly prime time wasn’t the only game in town “has been a wonderful advantage for me,” Langford says. “The typical prime day part doesn’t even exist anymore. People are watching at such a variety of times and a variety of networks now.”

Langford adds that the opening of newly attractive day parts has also unlocked network gems that previously weren’t considered the right fit for a political ad. “We’re seeing that the lower-tier networks are moving to the forefront a lot faster as the year has progressed,” she says. “I don’t think in 2018 TLC was a highly requested network, and then all of a sudden a lot of campaigns are saying they want TLC.”

The Media Mix

According to Advertising Analytics, $4.1 billion of this year’s political media spend has been earmarked for local broadcast, $1 billion for local cable platforms, and $247 million on national broadcast and cable networks. And then there’s the other big story of 2020—viewing on OTT outlets soared early during lockdown and is holding strong.

“With more fragmented options, top of mind for me is how we combine our buys across all media to give our clients the best estimate we can on who we’re reaching and how often we’re reaching them,” says Heck. “How much do we need on OTT? How much do we need on digital, and what is that breakdown that we are developing?”

Heck says some of her clients use big data to inform the buy, matching micro-targeting with television data or cable data. “So stations may see typical buys coming from us that aren’t so typical anymore.” Getting the right mix “is a 24/7 question, but we can only implement on it when our flights are scheduled. With the big push to lay everything in early to take advantage of lower rates, you have to make some decisions and assumptions early, and then make tweaks along the way. When you’ve got a refreshed audience, you have to go in and match it with what you’ve already laid in.”

While OTT isn’t yet on par with the other platforms for the majority of her clients’ plans, “it’s definitely a much bigger player than in other cycles,” Casterlin says. “This is the first cycle where there’s more confidence in the platform itself. For a few years it was the Wild West but this year there’s a better handle on it.”

When it comes to distribution avenues, “political tends to be a little bit of a dinosaur,” she adds. “We still get the campaigns who want to buy 1,000 points on broadcast, so it’s a challenge convincing them they need to be in other places. This cycle is a little bit of a breakthrough in that.”

As well as more screens at more times, audio is a bigger part of the mix this year.

“There’s this myth you shouldn’t buy radio anymore if people aren’t commuting anywhere, but we’ve seen research that shows people are still listening to radio, they’re just listening at different times,” says Bessette. “Ratings have gone up because people have the radio on in their home while they’re working.”

At Crossroads, “We’ve always been a big proponent of radio, both terrestrial and streaming,” Heck says. “And now the increasing popularity of podcasts has added another layer. How much do we need on podcasts—that’s one more puzzle piece we have to worry about fitting in.”

Navigating the Inventory Crunch

With a heated Presidential race and intense local races in several key states, the flow of ads from candidates, PACs and organizations is heavier than it was in 2016. With more interests spending more advertising money in more places this year, the inventory traffic jam is inevitable in select markets.

“We’re still seeing inventory issues in markets that are seeing the most activity,” Bessette says. “But there is so much more available to buy now. For a while, I was looking more at doing broadcast during the daytime hours and switching to doing streaming in the evening hours. But it’s still an election year and the markets that are getting slammed are still getting slammed. There’s no way around that.”

Inventory is particularly jammed “in the areas we refer to as hot zones, the hot congressional districts,” Langford says. The NYI solution? “This year, like other years but even further in advance, we are coming up with advance solutions of transferring inventory, creating different inventory, all kinds of things like that.”

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