Politicians are preparing for war, but it’s not in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other foreign land. It’s right here in Missouri, and it’s fought with political advertisements.
Robert Totsch, director of sales at St. Louis’ KMOV-TV, said the city is a “Gettysburg” of political advertising. He said early estimates hint the St. Louis market could garner $35 million or more. He said that is up 5 percent from the 2000 election when St. Louis was the No. 1-market for political advertising in the United States, according to The Brennan Center for Justice.
Kansas City ranks No. 3 in the national market for political advertising, The Brennan Center for Justice reported, and the rest of the state is full of potential targets.
“There’s farmers here, there’s blue-collar workers, there’s factories, there’s industrial,” Totsch said. “There’s one of the most eclectic mixes in the Midwest, there’s no Republican or Democratic lean here. The fact that the state is always up for grabs makes a potential for a rather large win.”
Jim Gardner, communication director for the Missouri Democratic Party, said it’s that undecided portion of the voter base that makes a difference in the election. Missouri is full of swing voters, so it’s always a target for advertising. Gardner said the Democrats spent about $20 million on Missouri ads in 2002.
Even for a battleground state, Betsy Farris, general manager of KRCG-TV in Jefferson City said she has never seen as much advertising activity as she has this year.
“I think the presidential campaign got off to an earlier start,” Farris said. “Plus there’s a lot of issues money.”
The issues money comes from organizations such as moveon.org that will spend money during a campaign year, but are not necessarily tied to a specific candidate.
Heather Farr, national sales coordinator for Kansas City’s KCTV-TV, called the amount of advertising interest “unreal.” She said the station will probably earn about $8 million this year. That is up from about $5 million in 2002, according to the Alliance for Better Campaigns.
Marty Siddall, general manager at KOMU-TV in Columbia, said the station will make between $500,000 and $1 million from the fiscal year ending June 30.
As the campaign heats up approaching November, Siddall said the station expects more money.
“With increased competition (for advertising) from satellite and cable, political years have turned into our growth opportunities,” Siddall said.
He said KOMU generally leads the market share.
The Columbia and Jefferson City markets are important during election years because they are near the capital, Farris said.
In the Columbia market, a “modest” presence will cost $25,000 to $50,000 per week, Gardner said.
Although stations are earning more money, Siddall said stations plan for the extra money in their budgets.
KOMU and KRCG will be spending most of the money to upgrade to digital format.
The influx of advertising can push out other advertisers, Siddall said.
“No market can absorb that much political advertising without affecting other clients,” Totsch said.
Stations try to accommodate their core advertisers, though because, as Totsch said, “At the end of the day, that’s who you go back to.”
Farris said it’s not a problem if advertisers have warning about when political ads will run.
Gary Drewing, president of Joe Machens Ford, said the dealership advertises a lot with the local stations, so it’s not much of a problem for them. He said as the election gets closer, though, it can become more difficult to secure ad spots.
The trick to securing time, Drewing said, is doing it early. He said if a company waits until a week before, it is likely the ad time will be gone.
Jack Miller, market manager for Cumulus Broadcasting, which owns seven local radio stations, said stations are required to sell ad time at their lowest rate to politicians during the window before elections. This window runs 60 days before general elections and 45 days before primaries. He said stations are required to sell time to federal candidates but can decide whether to sell time to state and local candidates. He also said organizations such as moveon.org and other issue-based advertisers do not enjoy the same benefits as candidate ads.