The circus is coming to town — to every city in America. There won’t be any lions, tigers or bears, only donkeys and elephants and a few exotic species. And only the donkeys and elephants will be performing in the center ring. It’s America’s quintessential, quadrennial big show — the 2024 presidential, congressional, state and local elections.
The donkeys and elephants will pull huge circus wagons overflowing with billions of dollars and chased by a crowd of consultants, ad agencies, media and many other vendors and individuals in pursuit of their share of political advertising dollars.
Two very early forecasts have been published for total political ad spending for the 2024 election, although both sources consider their projections to be conservative. Stagwell, a global marketing and communications group, and Vivvix CMAG, a data intelligence company, have similar forecasts — $12 billion and $11.5 billion, respectively. Vivvix also estimates political fundraising will reach $19 billion.
Vivvix CMAG was the only forecast of the two that provided some estimates for various media. Unsurprisingly, broadcast TV's portion is $5 billion, with connected TV/streaming receiving $1.8 billion and cable/satellite TV receiving $1.5 billion. The other two categories are Google/Facebook at $1.6 billion and radio at $400 million. Print media and newspapers are not mentioned. Print media doesn’t offer the reach and immediacy of video and digital content for political consultants and ad agencies.
“Based on our 20+ years of data, advertising in print media has never been more than a third of a percent of total campaign spending, and during recent cycles, it has been even less, at one-tenth of a percent,” said Andrew Mayersohn, a committees researcher at OpenSecrets, a nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics and publishes comprehensive data for public use.
For example, a comparison of the OpenSecrets data for expenditures by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee PAC during the 2022 midterm election reveals how little print media receives.
Dean Ridings, CEO of America's Newspapers and an advocate for the industry stated the environment for political ad spending in print media and newspapers hasn’t changed since the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.
“The newspaper audience continues to be strong, as evidenced by our recent national research, but many campaign managers don’t consider newspapers their primary resource, except for local races. They also perceive newspaper readers as being more educated and less persuadable,” Ridings said.
Steven Passwaiter, vice president of growth and strategy and senior advisor to Vivvix CMAG, agrees in part with Ridings.
“There is quite an emphasis on reaching 50+ audiences as they tend to vote often, but print is not seen as the place to find those voters. The results validate that assessment, although some groups use national publications, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, for some of their ads,” Passwaiter said.
Active voters are heavily exposed to newspapers.
The research by America’s Newspapers is supported by additional research from The Media Audit, which has been conducting market surveys for decades in many U.S. markets. Adults 18+ in selected large, mid-size and small markets who voted in the last federal, state or local election are exposed to one minute or more of a newspaper during the average day at a rate similar to exposure to other media.
% of Active Adults 18+ Voters Exposed to Medium On Average Day
The Media Audit’s survey results also indicate that adults 18+ who are active voters exposed to one or more minutes of newspapers during an average day skew older and more educated. Adults 55–64, adults 65–74 and adults 75+ had the largest percentages at 20.8%, 18.6% and 15.1%, respectively. Of those with some college education, 37.5% were active voters, and 41.4% had a single and/or advanced degree. Using Phoenix as an example, annual household income data among adults 18+ shows the most active voters exposed to newspapers were in the middle-income segments.
% Phoenix Adults/Active Voters by Household Income
A three-part strategy for newspapers
Despite how little attention and money print media and newspapers receive from many political campaigns, there are still opportunities to generate additional revenues — especially suburban and small-market newspapers with hyper-local reporting.
Passwaiter agrees newspapers that deliver comprehensive local news can attract more political ad money from local and regional campaigns.
“The good news is that we're seeing an increase in ad budgets, particularly in state legislative races. That’s an outcome of the Dobbs decision as it moved the reproductive rights question back into the states. It’s a passionate issue for both sides and tends to focus attention and dollars into these normally more passive races,” Passwaiter said.
Evan Tracey, senior vice president at National Media Research Planning and Placement (NMRPP) and a graduate instructor at George Washington University The Graduate School of Political Management, echoes Passwaiter’s comments. (The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spent $4.5 million for NMRPP’s services during the 2022 elections.)
“We see a significant amount of dollars being spent for very local races, whether those are mayors, city councils or local ballot measures. The issues that will probably dominate the next election cycle are mostly local: crime, inflation, jobs and schools. I think there is an opportunity certainly in the print world to take advantage of these races and issues,” Tracey said.
Digital advertising is the second strategic opportunity for newspapers to garner more political campaign dollars. According to Borrell Associates’ April–June 2023 survey of local advertisers, 32% said they bought digital advertising from a local radio company. Surprisingly, newspaper companies were second at 26%, followed by an agency at 19%, local TV station at 18% and local cable system at 9%.
“I think the digital options are as strong as ever, and I think that is where newspapers should focus their sales pitch to political campaigns. Certainly, many local newspapers do a good job covering local news on their websites, and they can deliver more customized audiences, which is appealing to campaigns,” Ridings said.
Local newspapers with a print facility can also promote direct mail services to local campaigns. According to the United States Postal Service (USPS), political mail volume increased 34% from 2018 to the 2022 midterm elections, or 2.9 billion and 3.9 billion, respectively. Its November/December 2022 survey of 2,236 national voters found 62% of them said they recall receiving political mail at least weekly during the 2022 midterm election, and “64% agreed that political mail reinforced information they saw on television and online political advertising.”
A consultant’s advice
With his many years as a media research and planning consultant for political campaigns, Tracey offers additional advice for print media and newspapers to grab a larger share of political ad dollars.
“There is much money being spent in politics, and some media can sit back and let the dollars come to them while others must be more aggressive. Print and newspapers are probably in that boat. They must work harder to remind campaigns and consultants that they’re viable media, who they can reach and how best to utilize them,” Tracey said.
Tracey also said print media and newspapers that are more aggressive about their value may have opportunities late in the election cycle.
“During that late period, campaigns have bought as much TV and radio as they can buy and all the impressions digital media can offer, but campaigns still have money and want to use it to re-target audiences, especially swing voters,” Tracey said.
His final advice is print media reps must always be in contact with campaigns and their advertising teams throughout the election period, emphasizing the audiences they can deliver, unique reporting and any data to support spending ad dollars with them.
Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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