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Television stations see more advertising for local races

It’s an election year and that means more political advertising revenue for television stations. Even without a hotly contested governor’s race, stations from Tupelo to the Coast report a good year for sales. The difference is more political advertising in local races, a phenomena that hasn’t always been the case in election years.

Advertising among local candidates has also included the primary runoff races at Tupelo’s WTVA-TV, says Larry Harris, general sales manager for the NBC affiliate.

“These judges’ races amaze me,” he says. “The candidates may spend $200,000 going for a $100,000-a-year job.”

The new normal?

Ads are already running for the November general election too.

“Maybe this is the new normal,” he says. “I was expecting a heavy season, but thought it might start slow. We’ve had some advertising for November already.”

He and other station sales managers expect advertising to begin in earnest after Labor Day and build from there.

“I’ve seen a few elections, and I think it will be a typical Mississippi election,” Harris says. “News viewers are voters and these guys (candidates) know that and go after those people. In Mississippi, Republicans realize Democrats may win and the Republicans can’t take votes for granted. So, the get-out-the-vote advertising is a big part of it, too.”

Darren Lehrmann, general manager for WXVT-TV in Greenville, says ad sales have been good this year for local campaigns in Washington and Bolivar counties. There has been some advertising for state races with the CBS station, but none for the lieutenant governor’s race as might be expected.

“That may change after Labor Day. However, our market is small, and when candidates are budgeting their advertising campaigns, they look at large markets such as Jackson and Biloxi,” he says. “Then maybe they look at Columbus, Tupelo, Meridian and Hattiesburg before they look at us. We don’t have the population concentration in this area.”

In 15 years as general sales manager for WAPT-TV in Jackson, Jeff Wolfe is seeing the heaviest advertising he’s ever seen for local races.

“The most hotly-contested local races were for district attorney and sheriff on the county level this time,” he says. “The lieutenant governor’s race was the biggest spender in the statewide contests. Other stuff has been sporadic.”

Also in the ABC affiliate’s viewing market, Madison and Rankin counties had hot district attorney races that brought in a lot of advertising. Wolfe thinks candidates for local offices are doing more fund raising these days and that some highly-visible issues have contributed to more advertising. He expects increased advertising in the fall when statewide races will lead the way, including the vigorous race for insurance commissioner.

“Candidates recognize what others who advertise with us recognize — we offer a quality product and an audience wanting to be informed,” he says.

WLOX-TV in Biloxi is having a huge, huge year, according to Linda Sherman, general sales manager for the ABC station. “It’s turned into much more than everyone anticipated,” she says. “Locally, the sheriff’s race has generated a lot of interest and advertising. Statewide, the secretary of state, insurance commissioner and lieutenant governor races are having a lot of advertising.”

Heavier than anticipated

The amount of advertising and the fact that ads for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Arthur Eaves are coming in sooner than expected have happily surprised Sherman. All the way around, political advertising has been heavier than anticipated.

She notes that the Democratic incumbent insurance commissioner George Dale, defeated in the primary election, did no advertising with this Gulf Coast television station.

“That was different this year. His opponent Gary Anderson advertised, and we had issue advertising,” she says. “Another one that was issue advertising was in the senate race with Tommy Robertson.”

Sherman sees more action coming for the general election and feels sure it will heat up after Labor Day. She has even brought an employee, Carolyn McGrew, back from retirement to handle the deluge of political advertising.

“I won’t let her retire. There are a lot of rules in political advertising and she knows them,” Sherman says. “She crosses every ‘t’ and dots every ‘i’.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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