Is Your Marketing Plan Ready for the Election?

marketing plans need to be changed during an election year

With the RNC and DNC complete and the candidates officially announced, the general election season has begun.  And with it comes the increase in political advertising.  For marketers, the headaches of political advertising go beyond our feelings about the content of the ads.  We are left to deal with the havoc these big spenders wreak on our regularly scheduled media plans.  Estimates on political ad spending are as high as $10 billion this year.  How will this increase in spending affect your marketing plan and what can you do to minimize the impact?

Direct Mail

Direct Mail is the second highest spending category in political advertising.  Local and state races rely on direct mail for the bulk of their campaign marketing because of the lack of alignment between political districts and broadcast DMAs and cable zones.

Political Mail also gets preferential treatment and expedited processing through the mail stream.  Essentially, any political mail is treated as First Class mail even though they pay lower rates.

What does this mean to your direct mail campaigns? 

Direct mail campaign sent using Standard Postage or Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) are always processed on a time available basis.  There is never any guaranteed delivery time.  With the increased pressure on the postal system from Political Mail, you should expect additional delays to your send.

Adjust your plan to minimize delays

The largest increases in political mail are expected to begin at the end of September right up through Election Day.  If you need a piece in homes on a certain day during this time, you’ll need to adjust your plans in one of the following ways.

  1. Mail Earlier. The simplest solution if you have enough lead time. Make sure you mail your piece ahead of schedule. For local delivery, expect 2-3 days’ delay.  For a national send, plan on at least a week longer than normal.
  2. Change your class. If budget is more plentiful than time, send your pieces First Class. This gives your message the same priority level as the campaign materials.
  3. Send your mail as close to the destination as possible. The less sorting the USPS needs to do, the faster your piece will be delivered and the less it will cost in postage.  Mail is sorted at sectional center facilities (SCF) before going to the local post office (destination delivery unit – DDU).  For direct mail traveling long distances, mail is transferred from the originating SCF to a regional Bulk Mail Center.  From the Bulk Mail Center, it’s routed to the destination’s local SCF before going to the DDU.  Eliminating any of these steps will reduce delivery time.  Drop shipping your piece as close as possible to its destination goes a long way in speeding up your mail send.
The typical direct mail delivery process sends a piece through multiple facilities before it arrives at its destination. Drop shipping pieces as close as possible to the destination post office speeds up the process.

Broadcast Media – Radio and Television

Television is where the most money is spent during and election year since it provides the most reach.  Since television and radio are limited inventory situations, you can expect inventory pressure during the campaign.  This translates to higher rates for everyone.

The higher rates are further inflated by FCC rules.  Broadcast media is required to give any federal election candidate the lowest rate in the class of time they purchase within 60 days of the general election.  So starting on September 9th, the rates for all ads will increase.  While legally only federal election candidates are entitled to the lowest rate, many stations will also extend it to state and local candidates as well.  PACs and other special interest groups are treated as regular advertisers.

Adjusting Your Broadcast Plans

So, how do you prepare for this?

  1. Expect to pay more to get less. This issue would have come up during planning but the simple fact is if it’s essential for your commercial to be on-air you can’t negotiate as hard as you would have outside of the 60-day window.  Preemption rates will be high and the advertisers with the lowest negotiated rates are the first to be pulled.  You’re also going to get less on-air added value as part of your buy during this period since the unpaid for spots factor into the rate calculations.
  2. Diversify your media plan. Since preemption is likely, make sure you have other media out the market.   We’d never advocate only running in one channel, but it’s especially important during the election time.
  3. Pay even more attention to your logs. If you have planned spend during the 60-day pre-election period, your media agency will need to be more aggressive in making sure your spots air and getting those make-goods to balance out under delivery.
  4. Delay your campaign. If you can, just avoid the 60-day period all together and run media somewhere else where inventory is less of a factor.

Everywhere Else

For all your other media– digital, social, OOH, email – the good news is there is no preferential treatment for federal election candidates.   In these media, you’ll just see the normal impacts of higher demand on inventory – higher rates and a cluttered media landscape.   Be aware of these challenges and adjust your bids accordingly and you should weather the storm just fine.