Project Wonderful

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Buying TV But Were Afraid To Ask

The other day I was lamenting to my coworkers that I do not know as much about media buying as I feel I should. Luck for me, I have CampaignSick Nation at my disposal. I hopped on the the social media and put out a call for someone with media buying/tv production experience to answer some questions and Phil Swibinski of Vision Media Marketing generously volunteered his services. Thank you so much Phil! Take it away!

1)Tell us a little bit about your career path. What is your job title and how did you get there?

My title is Account Executive, but we are a small firm where titles don’t mean much. My company is called Vision Media Marketing and it was founded as a one-man operation by my Dad, Paul Swibinski, in 1985. He was a part of one of the first waves of media consultants that worked in local and state politics and he built a successful business. I joined the firm after graduating college in 2008 in what was supposed to be a temporary role, but one that I took to immediately and have now grown into a leadership role in the company. We are a full-service media consulting and public relations firm that works for Democratic campaigns from the local to the federal level, primarily in New Jersey but sometimes elsewhere. We also do public relations work for local governments and private corporations and pubic affairs/business development consulting.

2)What might a “typical” day at work look like for you?

First, it depends on if we are talking about campaign season or non-campaign season. In our busy seasons which run in the Spring (lots of primary and local May elections in Jersey) and Fall, my days are long and hectic. They often begin early with conference calls and meetings, stretch throughout the day mostly writing anything from commercial scripts to direct mail to press releases, and too often end at a fundraiser or event. You’ll see us in the office on most weekends, especially in April, May and October.

In the off-season it is much quieter and my days are split between doing client work and taking lots of meetings trying to find new campaigns to work on.

3)First off…what is a media buy and what are “points”?

A media buy is essentially a detailed plan that shows when you want a television or radio ad to run, on what channels and at what time and for what price. There are many intricacies involved – are you buying fixed position (specific show) or in a window (i.e. Monday 3pm-7pm)? Are you buying pre-emptive (can be bumped, but often isn’t and is much cheaper) or nonpre-emptive (guaranteed to run but more expensive)? Are you paying candidate rates or issue rates? Or is it a mix of all of these and much more craziness?

Another important distinction is network vs. cable. In New Jersey, our state is split between the New York and Philadelphia media markets which are among the most expensive in the country. You will rarely see any campaign below the statewide or sometimes Congressional level buying network here. Instead most campaigns rely on cable television to get the message across, which can be extremely effective when done right. However, in many other parts of the country network TV rates are very affordable and you will see state legislative or local races up there. It’s all about the media market.

Points refers to Gross Ratings Points, and they are used as a sort of shorthand to measure the strength of a network TV buy. They are not used to measure cable buys in my experience, which are instead usually described in either a dollar amount or a number of spots per week.

4)If I am a candidate or a campaign manager, how do I go about buying airtime and how much will it cost?

Again, that totally depends on your media market. Network television ads in New York cost thousands of dollars per thirty second spot and you will need hundreds of thousands of dollars to make an impact. In terms of buying the time, TV stations and cable systems have advertising sales representatives that sell airtime. They will put together a buy for you if you ask, but often this is more advantageous for the system than the campaign. There are also media buying services available that work regionally or nationwide and will design media buys for campaigns or consultants for a fee. For my money though, the best course of action is to work with an experienced local media consultant (shocking coming from one of them, I know) who has a history of getting the best placements and really maximizing the media buy as well as producing effective, creative ads.

5)How much should I expect to spend?

Tough question once again because of the huge variation between different media markets and approaches. You should expect to pay your consultant the agency standard 15% commission on the actual media buy, and there usually will be a separate fee to cover production. For our firm, production costs range from about $5,000 -- $10,000 depending on the complexity and scope of the ad, and they pay for everything from script development to casting to the actual video shoot to editing, post production and delivery. For many of the bigger name media consultants those production costs can get into the $25,000 -- $50,000 range or more.

6)What makes a media buy successful?

A successful media buy has a true impact on a campaign, either in raising positive name identification and resonance for your candidate or in damaging your opponent, or both. When the most successful TV campaigns start you can almost feel the buzz in the air. There is nothing quite like the emotion and urgency that can be conveyed in video and TV remains the most powerful way to reach the eyeballs you need. When a great ad is running your field staff will get feedback from voters, reporters will be covering the ad, social media will be blowing up and your opponent will be scrambling to react.

7)When does it make sense or not make sense for a campaign to do TV? Are there economies of scale involved?

This is one of the things I take most seriously, because my firm does all types of media – TV, radio, mail, online ads, etc. We aren’t necessarily invested in one medium and want to do what makes the most sense for our clients. Usually TV is warranted when there is significant budget and when the district you are running in has an advantageous TV setup. Sometimes cable systems and media markets overlap with congressional or legislative districts nicely with minimal waste, and sometimes it’s not even close to being efficient. It takes a good media consultant to survey the landscape and figure it out. In terms of economies of scale, advertising rates are usually fixed to a certain extent but there are deals to be had in some cases by purchasing your time early. You will often see institutions like the DCCC that buy TV every cycle do this, because they have the benefit of early planning. There are also different rates for different organizations, with candidates paying less per ad than PACs in most cases.

8)In what situations and times of a campaign is TV advertising most effective?

TV is essentially a way to disseminate video, and video is most effective in delivering an emotional appeal. I find TV to work well when introducing a candidate for the first time to the voters. It also works great when you need to make a hard pivot and change the subject, especially because it can also affect the media narrative so strongly. You can produce the best piece of direct mail ever, but you will rarely see it written about as much as a great TV ad.

9)Tell us the truth: do negative (or as we like to say “comparison”) ads work? In what situations?

Yes! Negative ads work very well if they are done creatively in order to break through and actually reach voters. If you show them the same old thing (ominous music, gravelly voiced announcer, ugly looking pictures, bad newspaper headlines) your impact will be pretty limited. But if you do something interesting and different you can make an enormous impact. We’ve often found that the most successful hits are the ones that make the viewer laugh rather than cringe.

In terms of strategy, I think negative ads are particularly effective in a situation where your challenger is not well known but likely to be able to reach many voters/raise lots of money. You get a chance to define him/her negatively before their campaign can define itself – think Obama 2012’s early TV onslaught against Romney. I would argue that this Summer TV campaign permanently damaged Romney and put the President on the path to re-election and it’s a strategy I plan to steal.

10)What did you not know about TV advertising or media buying before you got into this business that surprised you?

I didn’t know how much work goes into making a really good ad on the production end of things. I think that in many campaigns, the media firm is churning out a new ad every few days without regard for making a really good product that will resonate and giving it a chance to gain repetition. One great ad can change a campaign, but 10 mediocre ones won’t. I think this gets lost in the discussion of TV advertising too, where much of the discourse is about money, points and number of spots and little is on whether or not an ad is actually any good.

11)What else should we know?

I think it is interesting how creativity is extremely important when producing a television ad, but attention to detail is vital when planning the media buy and strategy. It can be extremely difficult to do both things, which is why it is crucial to have a team around you that can help make sure the entire project is executed well.

In think it’s also important to realize that TV isn’t necessarily the be all-end all. It’s a tool for campaigns to use, albeit one of the most powerful ones, but a tool nonetheless just like direct mail, online ads, direct voter contact and everything else that goes into a successful campaign.

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