Big bucks for ads

by

Published: August 4,2003

Television, direct mail and yard signs, radio and print. That’s the order of media outlets that politicians will deluge with advertisements after the primaries have determined the final lineup for the general elections Nov. 4.

It’s a given that the gubernatorial race will pit Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgrove of Batesville against Republican contender Haley Barbour of Yazoo City.

“That’s really going to be a slugfest,” said Stuart Kellogg, general manager for WAPT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Jackson. “It’s been relatively quiet until now, but we know the governor and Haley Barbour are sitting on a whole lot more money.”

Dan Modisett, general manager of WLBT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Jackson, said television typically gets the lion’s share — 75% to 80% — of advertising dollars during political campaigns.

“Television dominates the scene, particularly in larger races and the state races,” he said. “The first place the candidates want to buy is in news. Studies show that news viewers translate into voters. They’re generally interested in what’s going on in the community. They’re better informed and are great targets. After news, candidates look at the other day — parts of prime time, afternoon and early morning — and it’s pretty evenly split among those.”

Political showdowns are windfalls for television stations because cash pays for spots in advance, said Modisett.

“It’s hard to collect from those who lose,” he said, with a laugh. “However, all qualified candidates get the lowest unit rate.”

Campaigns usually budget ad dollars starting on Election Day and working backwards, said Modisett.

“They look at how much money they have and determine if they can be on one week, two weeks, etc., before Election Day,” he said. “Better-funded campaigns will start two months out or more. And generally speaking, it drops down from there with other statewide races like lieutenant governor and attorney general to regional races, like highway commissioners or public service commissioners. After that, county and legislative races make up the next group of spenders.”

Because legislative districts are so disparate, it’s difficult for them to have a media campaign on television, said Modisett.

“Also, when you get to a small race in just one county, because we broadcast into 23 other counties, it becomes overkill unless they are getting into position to run in a larger race later and want to let voters know who they are,” he said.

So far this year, less money is being spent on political advertising than last year at this time, when congressional incumbents Ronnie Shows and Chip Pickering fought for the newly redrawn fourth district.

“Haley Barbour and Ronnie Musgrove both have quite a war chest,” said Modisett. “The two parties probably have twice what was spent four years ago for the same race. You’ve also got a hotly contested lieutenant governor’s race. The attorney general and treasurer seats are open, so those are hotly contested, which wasn’t the case last time.”

Barbour and Musgrove camps have been quiet so far, agreed Kellogg.

“Starting Aug. 6, the campaigns should really take off,” he said.

Everybody’s saving it for the last salvo, said GodwinGroup’s Danny Mitchell.

“They’re just holding off on everything,” he said.

The lieutenant governor’s race could yield a surprise, depending on the outcome of the Democratic primary between state senator Barbara M. Blackmon of Canton, Troy Brown of Greenwood and Judge Jim Roberts of Pontotoc to challenge Republican incumbent Amy Tuck.

“That’s a wild card race,” said Kellogg. “If it’s Sen. Blackmon vs. Amy Tuck, that’ll bring even more advertising than if it’s Judge Roberts.”

This year, 85 seats are up for grabs in the 122-member Mississippi House, the legislative body that voted Musgrove governor in 1999.

Television is getting the bulk of the ad dollars because it’s an emotional means of communication, said Mitchell.

“That’s one way people can build a relationship with a candidate,” he said. “It’s hard to do that through other means.”

Direct mail is probably the second largest outlet, said Mitchell, “because it can be much better targeted.”

“Mass media is for image and building a relationship, but direct mail targets people who have a propensity to get out and vote,” he said.

Radio will earn its share of ad dollars, and print media will be the last outlet based on timing, said Mitchell.

“They will save print until the last few days before election,” he said. “Newspaper is going to come in strong at the end because right before people make their decision, they’re going to try to gather more information on issues, and that’s where newspapers will be strong.”

Buddy Burch, general manager of WVMI Talk Radio in Biloxi, said political advertising has been a little slow during the primaries.

“Absolutely, there hasn’t been much at all, but we’re active on our news talk show because of the opportunity for candidates to express their platform and do interviews,” he said. “I haven’t heard from candidates on advertising after the primaries. They’re still trying to raise funds. There’s a priority of really going to yard signs before us.”

Even though local media outlets are contracted for some production work for television spots for smaller races, the bulk of production for statewide races is done out of state, said Kellogg.

The Barbour and Musgrove camps declined to participate in this article.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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