Strategic Communications: Getting Value out of Paid Media

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By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

Paid media on political campaigns typically refers to television and radio advertising, which still remains the dominant medium for reaching a large universe of voters.  For example, even though Jerry Brown was outspent by Meg Whitman by a margin of nearly 5 to 1 in the California gubernatorial race, he spent most of his money on TV (see “Jerry Brown nearly matched Meg Whitman’s campaign spending on TV in final weeks of race,” Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2011,

As we discussed in our article on the Communications Strategy Matrix , paid media is best utilized for educating voters.  Though large sums of money are typically used for paid media, its cost is rated low compared to other voter outreach methods based on a cost per voter contact ratio.

For instance, media buys for network television are based on gross rating points, or points as they’re called.  Each point represents 1% of the viewing audience of a media outlet’s demographics.  So, it would take 100 points to expose your ad to 100% of that audience.  And, a 700-point buy would expose your ad to that audience seven times.

Let’s assume that you want to air your ad statewide during the evening newscast on network television in a major media market and the cost per point is $750.  At $750 per point, a 700-point buy would cost $525,000.  Depending on the demographic you are targeting and the size of your viewership, let’s say 50,000 people for our hypothetical example, the cost per voter contact – that is, the cost for one voter to see your ad one time – would be $1.50, which is still relatively inexpensive.

The dirty little secret is that cable advertising is a fraction of this cost.  Moreover, it’s usually more effective because you can target your demographics more accurately due to the ability to segment markets and the distinct viewership of channels (e.g., women’s channels, Spanish-language channels, etc.).  Instead of points, cable channels will typically charge you a cost per spot, which can be as low as $50 depending on the market.

So, if you have a large number of voters to reach, as counterintuitive as it may seem, paid media may be the most inexpensive solution.  It’s no wonder it’s still so prominent in political campaigns.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for The Saint Consulting Group, email