Political campaigning big business this year

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Published: July 30,2007

Elections are big business and 2007 is a statewide election year with county, district and statewide races to be decided. Not only are the candidates busy but other businesses are, too — political consultants, media buyers, printers and direct mail houses to name a few.

Two Mississippi political consultants, Ted Riemann and Reed Guice, say the candidates they represent are spending the biggest portion of their money on television advertising. That’s followed by direct mail and telephone banks with all other forms of getting the message out — newspapers, collateral, outdoor — bringing up the rear.

“It’s never hard for good candidates to raise money. We get them to raise it and we spend it,” Riemann said. “We use a lot of professional political vendors and everyone makes money.”

For Riemann, who owns Gulfport-based Prime Time Group advertising agency, the political consulting cycle is every two years and represents approximately 25% of his business during those years. When there are no statewide and county elections, there are judicial and local races to fill the void.

More expensive than ever

Biloxi consultant and advertising executive Reed Guice says it’s more expensive than ever to run a campaign. “Even so, I don’t think we’ll see the amount of money spent on the last governor’s race spent this year although the lt. governor’s race is a hot one,” he said. “Electronic media is the biggest winner but more and more candidates are using targeted media — direct mail and phone banks.”

He feels that all candidates, even on the local level, must have a web site to run for office. “It’s a daily requirement but the sophistication varies a lot on these sites,” he said.

Guice says the use of print media is still a very important part of the political equation even though he thinks many political consultants don’t know how to use print effectively because they’ve seen so much on television. He and Riemann agree that outdoor advertising is important for candidates challenging incumbents to help establish name identification. Research is another campaign tool that’s more widely used as it becomes bigger and more sophisticated.

John McCollins, sales director for First American Printing & Direct Mail, says the Ocean Springs-based company definitely sees an increase in business during election years.

“It’s busy with Mississippi and Louisiana both having statewide elections this year,” he said, “but First American does direct mail on a national level, so we’re doing political direct mail every week.”

Targeted approach

He says direct mail is popular with political campaigns because it’s more targeted than other forms of vote solicitation. Studies show that the return on investment for general direct mail (not just political) is more than double that for television, radio and newspapers.

“Candidates can send a piece that goes to people who show up at the polls, thus cutting the universe in half at least,” McCollins said. “On average, direct mail gets $15 returned in contributions, so it is used for fund raising and asking for votes. The wider the geographical area of an office, the more important direct mail becomes.”

He says his business is also printing a lot of push or palm cards this year. That’s those four- by nine-inch cards with the candidates’ information and photo on them. They’re bigger than standard business cards, an item McCollins says are used much less now than in the past.

“We still print a lot of yard signs but don’t do campaign buttons,” he said. “I see a lot of people wearing campaign stickers for their candidates.”

Specialty items wane

Guice finds that candidates still feel they must have some specialty items bearing their names because their supporters want them. Riemann’s candidates still do signs and old-fashioned hand fans, too.

“Over the past 20 years, television has made a huge impact and get-out-the-vote TV is a very important part of campaigning,” Riemann said. “Grassroots campaigning is still important. In local politics, people love candidates coming to talk to them. I would say the candidates who use a combination of grassroots campaigning and meeting people with media have a better chance of winning. That’s hard to do in statewide races.”

In district races where candidates need to cover 27 counties, Riemann recommends concentrating on priority counties. “We don’t forget about the others but we have to look at the numbers and party preferences,” he said. “You have to go fishing where the fish are biting.”

Forget cheap

Gone are the days of inexpensive campaigns. Marty Wiseman, Ph.D. and director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, recalls that his dad ran two successful campaigns for the Mississippi House of Representatives on $500. The money was mostly used for business cards, emery boards and matchbooks.

“In the old days, people wanted to be asked for their vote. You had to hand them that card and tell them you would appreciate their vote,” he said. “The ability to lay hands on every vote is almost impossible now and candidates have to use every medium they can — e-mails, TV, etc. — to reach voters.”

He points out that winning elections is all about name recognition. “For anything beyond pressing the flesh, there’s a price tag,” he said. “Candidates get 15 seconds instead of 15 minutes with voters, and it’s important to utilize that sound bite.”

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

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