TV will once again reap the largest piece of political advertising this year, according to forecasters. But rather than trying to convince media buyers to buy radio in place of TV, broadcasters are embracing a strategy of adding radio to a TV buy to deliver more of what campaigns want: registered voters.
The most recent forecast from BIA Advisory Services is for $7.3 billion to be spent in the 2020 election cycle, with the lion’s share – $3.3 billion – expected to go to TV. There are a variety of reasons why TV typically comes out on top. Campaign pollsters like the medium because they can survey voter perceptions, blitz the market with TV, do a follow-up poll and see a 10-point change in voter perceptions. “No other media does that,” Bradley Perseke, Partner, Media Planning at political ad buying shop GMMB told an online audience during a live video presentation from the Radio Advertising Bureau. What’s more, candidates like to see themselves on TV and many creatives and consultants prefer the medium, too. “We continue to see a strong press for radio and I think you will see more and more of that and it happens kind of now,” Perseke added, noting that radio campaigns aren’t usually activated unto late in the cycle.
With data and analytics playing a bigger role in how and when campaigns spend their ad dollars, radio has focused on showing the incremental reach that it delivers when used in tandem with television.
“It’s never going to be radio over TV,” said Patrick McGee, Senior VP, Political Strategies Manager at Katz Radio Group. The rep firm has been working to show decision-makers how, especially in larger markets, chipping off a small portion of the TV budget and reallocating it to radio can be a “game-changer” for reaching more voters. “You’re reaching more voters as you incorporate audio into the campaign,” McGee said. That’s sometimes done through what’s known as a post mortem in which a previous TV campaign is dissected to show how allocating a small portion of the TV budget would have positively impacted the overall net reach of voters.
An analysis from Nielsen of a series of local media buys for political campaigns in 2018 found that a 20% reallocation from TV to AM/FM radio resulted in an average 22% reach lift among registered voters. The simple explanation for the boost, according to Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer for Westwood One and parent company Cumulus Media, is that AM/FM radio reaches voters without cable and light TV viewers. Declining TV ratings are also a factor, he says.
Speed To Market
With less than 70 days until Election Day, billions of dollars remain unspent and one of radio’s calling cards is its speed in getting the message out to the market. “So many times we are tasked with getting out messages the same day or next day,” McGee said. “We’re really nimble, which helps campaigns respond quickly.”
Perseke, who has been placing political buys for 30 years, said radio’s secret sauce is consumer targeting. “You can go into a local market and buy different formats and reach different people, within the same market. You don’t do that on TV,” he said. “Sometimes I have targeted messages that are just for specific voters. I can pick those stations and reach that audience in a way that is narrow, focused, and effective.”
Brad Deutsch, Office Managing Director and Principal at the law firm Foster Garvey, said radio has a major opportunity to grab some of the dollars that would have been spent on live events and door-to-door campaigning, which have been mostly cancelled due to health concerns from the coronavirus. “Radio is perfectly poised to fill that space,” he said. “If radio is able to convince campaigns that this is the next best thing, which it might be, I think there may be an opportunity here.”
Should campaigns divert money from live events to advertising, it would be the icing on an already oversized cake.“I’m spending more per client than ever before but that was true in ’18 and ’16,” Perseke said. “Every year this category goes up.” And while McGee noticed a brief pause in spending early in the second quarter due to the pandemic, it’s now full speed ahead. “From a national standpoint, there was a little pause button hit in early Q2 but everything now has started to cascade. States with more competitive races are heating up.”