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Manage Your Media during a Political Window

By: Christine Price    June 29, 2020

Planning, buying and managing media during a political year is stressful! It is not realistic for all advertisers to wait until the political window has closed by pausing their media for two months. So it is important to know how the political window works, how it can affect your media buys and plan accordingly.

The 411: The political window for the general election begins September 7, 2020 ─ 60 days prior to election date, which occurs this year on Tuesday, November 3. The lowest unit rate (LUR) becomes a factor in the political buying window. Regulated by the FCC, LUR legally qualifies local, state and federal candidates the lowest rate for spots. LUR is not one rate, but a series of rates provided by stations by daypart or programming class. In addition to LUR, there are also sets of tiered rates available to candidates that are based on the level of the preemptibility of the spot. There is much more to political buying, but this is the gist of it.

The issues: Unfortunately, most political buys do not use LUR. They buy at a rate higher up on the rate scale to prevent possible preemptions. This buying pattern is what increases the rates for local advertisers.

Political buys revise continuously based on polls, additional budgets, new messaging and more, right up to election day. Rates are pushed higher as candidates seek non-preemptible spots at rates upward to 200% higher than what a local advertisement would typically pay for the same spot. The closer the spots air to the election day, the more the political parties are willing to pay for spots to secure non-preemptible rate status.

The strategy: Know the election’s geography that will affect your media buy. If it is a local buy, what are all the races (local, state, issues, etc.) that will occur within the same buying area. Know the demo and dayparts that will affect your buy. For most candidates and issues, TV, especially the local and national newscasts will have the highest rates during the political window and will make it very inefficient to battle the rates. Know the media options. What other media tactics can you secure in addition TV to protect the integrity and weight of your buy. Layer multiple media tactics into your flights to include digital, connected TV and social buys.

The tips: Remain nimble with your planning. Avoid political windows whenever or as much of the window as possible. This is particularly important during the later parts of each political window (closer to the election date), when political ads account for most of the commercial activity in key dayparts/programs. Rates are higher during a political window, so plan for increased CPPs. Buy early and plan for preemptions. Early buying will help to manage rate increases and best maintain planned schedules. Prepare a plan for identifying acceptable makegoods and allow for potential spot movement outside of your originally planned flight weeks. Limit the use of news programming (early morning, early news, late news), as well as cable news networks (CNN, FOX News and MSNBC). These dayparts and networks will be heavily impacted by political spending and are typically priced at very high CPMs. Tier campaign flights outside of the political window at higher than usual point levels to keep share of voice within your advertising category.

Keep on top of the buys and their pacing, and take a lot of deep breaths. There are more advertising opportunities than ever before and it’s totally possible to have a marketing presence, even during a political window.