local media insider

Political spending 2020: An interview with John Kimball

John Kimball tells all when it comes to political advertising in local media

Alisa Cromer

John Kimball of John Kimball Group will again supply the contact data for political candidates, issue groups and PACs to local media in 2020. Here’s his advice on what’s new in 2020, and why media should get an early start.

LMI: I know there is huge money on the table this year. Can you give an overview of what is at stake here?

Kimball: This is likely to be a record-setting election. The 2018 midterm election saw in excess of $9 billion in total political spending. We anticipate the 2020 general election will see something in the neighborhood of $11 to $12 billion. The spending will start in 2019 and continue through 2020.

Television continues to benefit from nearly half of all spending - either on network or local cable. However, with a finite inventory of time to sell, TV usually gets sold out pretty early. My guess is that will happen sometime around April or May of next year with schedules to run through the election. Regardless of when that happens, other media will be in a position to go after those dollars that are not committed.

LMI: When should media start thinking about 2020 sales? Is May 2019 “too early” to start?

Kimball: No, I don’t think so. The [Democratic] Party has now announced 20 candidates. You have to have name recognition of at least 1% in three national polls and a minimum 65,000 small-donor contributors to get on the stage for the first debate in June. So no, May is not too early.

Newspapers can have a big role in driving name recognition. In the Democratic Party, Joe Biden is the 20th candidate to formally announce, but many are struggling for name recognition. A couple of Republicans may challenge Trump, however, you have so many on the Democratic side so that is where I would pay attention first. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders may not need name recognition help; for the others, it is really important to make the call. You will not get the business if you don’t ask for it. So what if you get told no? Good salespeople get told no many times each day.

LMI: What role do you think newspapers, specifically, should have in this election?

Kimball: The newspaper audience [is strong] in voting. Research continues to show that nearly 80% of the people who actually go to the polls and vote, define themselves as regular consumers of newspapers in print or online.

Much of the electorate in the presidential election are pretty firmly entrenched in one camp or the other, but for the rest of the thousands of candidates, the margin of victory is still up for grabs - and newspapers can help drive that voter. Getting to the people who actually go to the polls and vote is critical. Newspapers can be the winning difference.

LMI: What are some strategies you suggest, besides finding all the contacts?

Kimball: Probably my most important message is to designate a political champion at your newspaper or media group who is responsible for the category. It should be someone who understands the category and can treat it as a major revenue source the way they do any other category they sell every day. Political is more than an every two- or four-year opportunity. Local issues spring up all the time. Pay attention to what is happening politically in your market and get in front of the decision makers with your message.

Much of the issue advertising breaks first on TV. We suggest looking for the names of the “paid for” by-lines on the television ads and write it down, then find it in our database. If you don’t find them, let us know and we’ll look it up, but most are there.

LMI: I know you also advise packaging political advertising. What should be in these packages?

Kimball: Especially at the very local level, where most newspaper dollars will come from, many of these candidates do not have large professional campaign staffs nor are they necessarily familiar with media buying. Keep the packages simple and easy to understand. Call them Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum - small, medium - large, premium or any other name that makes sense with specific dollars attached to each one. “Here is our $1,500 package that includes 4 quarter page ads, 30 days on our website and an ad in our Voter Guide.”

As spending levels increase, the packages contain more products and frequency. Every package obviously contains print and digital.

Other unique features like front page Sticky Notes, Spadea Wraps, digital services, voter guides, website building, geofencing and targeting are also great things to include.

Direct mail can be expensive. Most newspapers can often guarantee day of delivery of inserts. Make the pitch to convert some of these direct mail dollars into insert delivery. This is where early name recognition campaigns have value and especially closer to Election Day for GOTV (Get Out The Vote).

Make sure you think about publishing a voters guide in print and digital, so people are walking into the polls with the newspaper guide in hand. Hold a meet the candidate night, sponsored by your media. Encourage candidates to come in and meet the editorial board.

LMI: I know you provide a list of contacts for the national and local races as part of your business model. For any media that is not familiar, what does this service cost and what will they receive?

Kimball: We gather the candidate and independent expenditure group contact data from multiple sources around the country. The regular charge is $950 per state for one paper. If an organization owns more than one paper in a state, the other papers are o $75 each. And we offer discounts for multi-state buys. We have found that for most clients, one sale pays for the entire program, often many times over.

The contact database is delivered via Box.com in Excel spreadsheet format. It includes the physical address, phone, email, Facebook and Twitter handles in most cases.

Everything is updated on a regular basis throughout the election season - right up to Election Day, November 3, 2020. We are talking about delivering contact information for some 40,000 to 45,000 candidates running in statewide and local races around the country. Additionally, there are 13 governor races (that usually include the lieutenant governor and attorneys general) and 34 US senators (one-third of the Senate is up for election every two years). All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives serve two-year terms and are up for election or reelection every two years.

New groups advocating an issue can show up overnight and if [one] surfaces we dig up the information and get it out to our clients.

In addition to the contact information, we also supply a customizable PowerPoint that clients can use to make their own presentations that contains the latest research of voter media behavior and the strong story newspapers have to tell in the political arena.

Also included are success stories from around the country and examples of how newspapers have successfully packaged their portfolio of products, so candidates and campaigns can see how easy it is to purchase political advertising.

LMI: Any other advice for smaller media who have not sold a lot of political ads in the past?

Kimball: In most markets, newspapers who have the most feet on the street and have a tremendous advantage in being the agenda-setter with high brand equity in their communities.

I said this earlier, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of having someone who is responsible for the political category. Know the business - pay attention to who is running, pay attention to local and regional issues.

Newspapers are in a struggle for revenue and here sits a category begging to be mined. Put your packages together, find the candidates and issues and go make the calls.

To see reports for your market contact Johnekimball44@gmail.com.
Political Advertising, John Kimball Group, Candidates, 2020 Election, Local Media, Newspaper, Advertising


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