Election cycles always take over the media airwaves. But even by modern standards, what we’re about to see is going to shatter advertising records. In addition to a busy House, Senate and state election season, a particularly contentious presidential election season is already well under way. Oh, and did we mention that there’s also a Summer Olympics in 2020?

Advertisers are already competing for scarcer media inventories, earlier than ever before. Which means that TV advertising and radio advertising costs are going to be more expensive than ever before. In other words:

There’s a very good chance you won’t be able to buy the ad space you

need, at the rates you want, starting way earlier than you think.

The stats are jaw-dropping:

  • Political ad spending is expected to reach $10 billion for the 2019-20 political season, a staggering 59% increase from 2016 (Group M).
  • Americans could see 8 million political ad broadcast airings in 2020, a 45% increase from 2018 (Cross Screen Media).
  • We’ve already seen twice as many presidential TV ads now as we did at the same point in the 2016 election (FiveThirtyEight).
  • $6.55 billion will be spent on local ads, representing 16.5% of total local broadcast TV ad revenue for all of 2020 (BIA Advisory Service).                                      
  • Candidates are already investing more dollars in OTT, local cable and digital advertising. For the 2019-2020 federal election cycle alone, digital ad spending will make up as much as 20% of total political ad spend (Kantar).

How can you win this political season? Here are 5 ways to make sure your ads run when they’re supposed to run, at rates that don’t devour your entire marketing budget.

1. Get your 2020 media planning done yesterday.

Especially in battleground state markets, media inventory is going to tighten significantly and drive up rates for non-political advertisers. In fact, ad space on premium programs—especially during political windows on local TV news—will likely become entirely unavailable. Depending on where you want to advertise, you need to finalize your 2020 media plan now and reserve your inventory so you don’t get shut out as early as Feb. 2020.

2. Know the political windows in your key markets.

We’ve mapped out every primary and caucus for the top 100 markets where one of our clients does business. Why? Because state elections and national primaries are going to affect TV, digital and radio advertising in every media market in both big and small ways. For example, in addition to Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Dubuque and Waterloo, the Iowa caucuses are already tightening inventories in Omaha, and the New Hampshire primary is affecting inventories in Boston.

These and other markets will loosen up a bit after the primaries. But come September 2020, good luck placing any ads unless you take action to lock down your spots now. Speaking of which …

3. Do an annuals buy to lock in inventory at good rates.

Here’s some inside baseball: Politicians don’t have to negotiate media rates at local TV and radio stations, because the law requires that they automatically receive the LUR (Lowest Unit Rate). That’s why political ads flood the airwaves with such high frequency, especially during local news.

Case in point: Toward the end of the 2016 election cycle, political ads ate up 43% of available local news slots in battleground markets—over 400% more than at the start of the season (Kantar CMAG). So what happens if you’re a traditional advertiser? You get bumped if you haven’t locked in as a non-preemptible advertiser, and new placement rates skyrocket. Stations push for higher rates to not bump your spot. And you have to compete even harder against everybody else.

If you want the most bang for your TV and radio advertising buck, you have to lock in at a competitive rate for the entire year. When Media Bridge locks in annuals, our clients’ spots are classified as “priority,” which prevents a bump. And if we receive any bumps, we gently—and sometimes not so gently—remind stations that we’re priority. Which brings us to …

4. Make sure your spots are running at the times you paid for.

You’d be surprised to learn how often TV and radio spots get bumped during political season, even when you supposedly have a lock on your time slots. Some stations do document this, but often the information is buried in the run reports. We’re hawks about bumps, because buying a 6:00 evening news spot and having it run at 3:30 is a little like buying a Mercedes and getting a Hyundai …

Side note: Some of the fastest growth in advertising—including political advertising—is happening in OTT (Over the Top) connected TV. According to Tru Optik, OTT is expected to see up to $720 million in spend this season. So instead of fighting the traditional broadcast TV game, you might want to pivot portions of your schedules to OTT, where impressions are guaranteed to be delivered. 

5. Don’t DIY your media buys.

If there’s ever been a case for hiring a media-buying agency, this is it. Minimizing your TV advertising costs, radio advertising costs and digital advertising costs will require strong existing media relationships, deep research, impeccable timing, a serious commitment to transparency, an extreme attention to detail, more creativity and even stronger negotiating prowess than usual.

Bottom Line: We’re about to witness a presidential election unlike any other in history, and that applies to the media environment as well. The stakes are high. The margin for error is low. And in the end, there will be clear winners and losers. This political season isn’t just an election. For advertisers, it’s the Media Hunger Games. Our advice: Get ahead of it. Get aggressive. And do everything you can to put the odds ever in your favor.

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