Cable Needs Realism Dose on Political Ads: Strategist

Cable systems are overestimating the value of their ability to demographically segment its advertising, charging clients double or triple what the spots are worth, in the opinion of political strategist Brad Perseke.

Perseke, a partner in GMMB, a political consultancy and advertising firm that handled John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004, warned ad salesmen that if they don’t keep prices in line with those charged by local broadcast, “you’ll lose.”

“You’ve always overpriced by 200 to 300%,” he said.

Cable ad executives countered that there is value in the medium’s options for drilling down into the viewing audience, delivering more than just eyeballs.

Broadcast “gives bulk, but who are those people? Are they registered to vote? Do they speak English?” asked Phillip Woodie, director of multicultural sales for Comcast Spotlight, mentioning just a few of the attributes that cable can use to segment its audience.

Executives on a Cable Show panel on capturing ad buys throughout the election year advised local sales-force members to be aware of the greater political picture. A state with no strong local races could still see big ad buys if it is deemed a “must-win” state by either party, said Neil Schwartz, senior account manager for Arbitron/Scarborough Research.

Other strong political ad sales states include North Carolina (tight congressional and gubernatorial races); Washington (virtually all major offices are up for re-election); Colorado (three Congressional seats and a Senate spot); Florida (where Democrats have made great gains in voter registration); and New Mexico.

Despite Perseke’s view of cable pricing, the medium has made double-digit gains in ad sales so far this election season.

“No one budgeted for the amount of money we took in [during] the primaries, and 70% of the business is still in front of us,” said Rich Ambrose, vice president of political advertising for Time Warner Cable Media Sales. Following the tone set by Perseke, Ambrose added, “We need to price like we do for our other advertisers.”

He advised against pre-empting political ads to accommodate core advertisers. The last thing a political campaign wants is a post-campaign make-good check, he said, adding core advertisers will still need to sell cars or pizzas after the election.

Perseke told local salespeople it’s a little late to come knocking on a national political media buyer’s door. A better strategy: Report sales of local ad flights to National Cable Communications, which will get that information to campaign strategists. The competition will come knocking to counter the buy, he added.