Strategies Developing, But Ads May Be Hard to Place

Aug 25, 2003  •  Post A Comment

More candidates than usual, less time to campaign and a circus atmosphere mark the upcoming California gubernatorial recall election, surely one of the most unusual political races ever to unfold.
Yet another twist is the potential media headache ahead: Even if candidates are able to raise the money for TV ads, those ads may be tough to place.
K.B. Forbes, communications director for Bill Simon’s campaign, said he has already been told by two radio stations in Sacramento, Calif., one in San Francisco and two in Los Angeles that the stations will not accept any political advertising during the recall campaign.
Mr. Forbes said the campaign has not yet bought any TV ads and has not been told officially that they will be unable to do so. But it wouldn’t surprise him, “because under California law, they have to offer the lowest rate card for political ads,” he explained. “And even though they may have more volume with all the recall candidates, it is a time for high viewership with the launch of the fall lineup, so the stations can sell ads at a higher rate to commercial buyers.”
Candidates and their media advisors were wary about discussing their TV strategies. Howard Sunkin, VP of government relations firm Cerrell Associates, offered some insight. With this compressed election schedule, “The candidates cannot dial for dollars. They need to be out pressing the flesh,” observed Mr. Sunkin.
Nevertheless, Mr. Sunkin predicted that “over the entire recall election, I expect all of the major candidates to spend $50 million in total.”
What follows is a brief selected rundown of candidates who might advertise:
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante
The campaign did not return several phone calls asking for information.
Peter Camejo
Tyler Snortum-Phelps from Peter Camejo’s campaign indicated that “our efforts are focused more on grassroots politicking and we have not started to consider television advertising.”
Gov. Gray Davis
The Davis campaign spent $50 million on television, radio and print advertisements in the 2002 gubernatorial race. Gabriel Sanchez, press secretary for Californians Against the Costly Recall, said Mr. Davis’ campaign expects to spend between $15 million and $20 million on the race. Mr. Sanchez said that in this race, the Davis camp intends “to put more resources into field organizing, given the intense media interest in the recall campaign. The need for paid advertisements is lessened, and while we have not made a decision, we do not expect to spend as much proportionately on television in this campaign compared to last year’s race.”
Still, Mr. Sanchez reports that the Davis campaign has begun to seek TV station rate cards, and “given the good working relationship we have with television stations from the 2002 campaign, we have not encountered any problems yet.”
Arianna Huffington
The independent hopes to raise and spend $10 million for election expenses. Her campaign has just started to price media buys. In making their inquiries, a Huffington campaign strategist said “they have not experienced any blackout periods.”
Tom McClintock
Mr. McClintock’s campaign already has experienced some challenges in terms of placing ads. “We have not been getting any hostility from television stations, but there has been a need for an element of creativity in the buys, given that 135 candidates are in the race,” said John Stoos, a campaign spokesperson for the McClintock campaign.
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Officially, no comment on any aspect of his campaign’s media plans or expenditures. What is known is that last week his campaign became the first to run TV ads in the state. In an unusual move, he chose to run 60-second commercials instead of the usual 30-second spots. In the spots, the candidate speaks directly to viewers and says he wants to be “the people’s governor” and that he will stand for fiscal responsibility and put children first. According to media reports, his campaign spent $1 million on its first week of TV ads. That included about $300,000 in Southern California. He is expected to spend up to $14 million by the Oct. 7 vote, much of it from his personal fortune.
Bill Simon
K.B. Forbes, Communications Director for Bill Simon’s campaign, similarly recognized that “this campaign has the feel of a presidential campaign. The media coverage is unprecedented.” As for the media budget, the Simon camp would not offer any details, but Mr. Simon recently indicated on the Fox News Channel that he intends to personally seed his campaign with $9 million to cover all campaign expenses. Though it hasn’t bought TV time yet, the Simon campaign was the first to buy a series of radio ads, many of them to challenge the candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Peter Ueberroth
Campaign declined comment. According to media reports, he is considering a radio ad campaign, but at present has no plans for TV advertising.
Alex Ben Block and Advertising Age’s Wayne Friedman contributed to this report.