Lessons Learned From The Trump Campaign

There is unlikely to be another presidential campaign like the one that made Donald Trump our 45th president last year. But there are lasting lessons for local broadcasters to be derived from it: 1) their lock on the presidential spend may not be as strong as they might think; and 2) as sellers they have to get as smart about Big Data and targeted advertising as the buyers.

Donald Trump’s campaign for president last year raised little and spent little on TV, perhaps $100 million in all. That’s a decent amount, but far less than local broadcasters had figured to get out of the Republican candidate and party when they were optimistically forecasting in 2015.

But the broadcasters don’t seem to be overly concerned. They recognize that Trump was an unusual candidate in more ways than one and that his campaign was unorthodox to say the least.

Through his incessant self-promotion over nearly 40 years, ubiquitous product and real estate branding and realty TV stardom, he was one of the most famous personalities in America even before announcing his candidacy.

Couple all that with an unparalleled ability to command news media attention and his tweets, and you have one hell of a candidate. It is doubtful we will see the likes of him again.

Broadcasters also reassure themselves that should Trump run again, it will not be on the cheap. He will be able to raise great piles of money and will divert most of it into TV, still the best place to pitch anything.

So, there may be a temptation to dismiss Trump’s 2016 campaign as a purple cow and let it go at that.


That would be a mistake.

I spoke to Evan Tracey of National Media, the Republican media agency that placed most of the TV money for Trump and the Republican National Committee (“coordinated expenditures”), and Brent McGoldrick, CEO of Deep Root Analytics, one of Tracey’s Big Data providers, and I found that there are lessons to be gleaned.

The most important is that national network can sometimes be a more efficient buy than local TV in presidential races even as the contest narrows to a handful of battleground states and the TV markets within them.

When all was said and done, Tracey said, the campaign ended up putting about 30% of its money in network rather than local.

The network buys gave Trump “the luxury of being in the battleground states that we always fight over, the Ohios and the Floridas, but it also gave us a lot of impressions in the Pennsylvanias and Iowas and Wisconsins and Michigans,” Tracey says.

“From just a sheer cost standpoint, buying the network morning shows and the network newses, and even some of the sports, actually netted out at a better cost to buy nationally than it would have been to buy in all the markets in all the traditional battleground states.

“Well, it’s sort of the ‘what is old is new again,’ right? I think that people had sort of given network television and politics up for dead, but I do think it’s very efficient.

“There’s lots of people who will say, hey, there’s a lot of waste in doing that. Why would you ever want to spend on ads that are going to air in places like California and Hawaii and Vermont where Republicans are going to have a hard time winning? But at the end of the day, donors still see that, it still helps local candidates, it helps the base, it helps people get more organized.”

Although the broadcast networks got most of the national money, he says, some was scattered among the cable news networks and a few of the “higher indexing” entertainment networks. “Some of them don’t take political so we didn’t have the option of buying them.”

The other thing that Tracey did to get the most out of his $100 million was to turn to Big Data to pinpoint the voters the Trump campaign was targeting and figure out what networks and individual shows they were watching.

According to Tracey, the targeted voters included Republicans who were not yet comfortable with Trump or who were not inclined to vote because they were in what they thought were solidly blue states, and Democrats who didn’t like Clinton, but were having trouble voting for a Republican.

Enter Deep Root Analytics.

McGoldrick says his firm focused on finding the Democrats who had voted for Obama in the past, but were leaning toward voting for Trump. He figured that 5% or 6% of the voters in key battleground states fell into this category.

Deep Root was not only able to identify where such voters were, but what shows they were watching, he said. The campaign could buy those show and often do so relatively cheaply, he says.

“Did TV targeting win the campaign on its own?” asks McGoldrick. “Of course not. But it was a necessary component of it.”

The Trump campaign’s more-than-usual reliance on network shouldn’t cause too much alarm among station owners. In the end, the lion’s share of the Trump money — 70% — did go local and Tracey professes to still be a big believer in it.

“Local news, that’s still the ocean-front real estate for political buying,” he says. “If you can afford it, you buy it. Local news is about as solid and secure in political buying as anything. News is still where you’re going to get those people who tend to care about what’s happening in their communities. Chances are pretty high that they’re going to go out there and vote. And this idea that these are all locked-in voters, I don’t agree with that.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Tracey tells me that for him the second most important TV genre is sports. “Local sports brings you a lot of young males which happen to be pretty reliable Republicans these days.”

So, I think that broadcasters can expect a return to normalcy in some respects. They can expect the number of dollars from the Republicans to return to at least 2012 levels, to match those from the Democrats, and they can expect the Republican buy to be stretched out over a longer period rather than crammed into the last eight weeks as it was last year.

But in other ways, things may be different. According to Tracey, the shifting of dollars from national to local had less to do with the unique nature of the Trump campaign than it had with his simple desire to get the best bang for the buck. It’s a trend that could carry over to 2016 if local broadcasters overprice their local time.

Deep Root’s McGoldrick says that he tried to push the campaign away from local news because “the cost doesn’t make sense relative to the target…. It is way overbought.”

And, of course, you can bet that Big Data will play as even greater role in placing the spots where they will do the most good. My advice to broadcasters would be to become more expert than the political buyers in what shows appeal to which voters so they can guide buyers and so that they don’t undervalue their inventory.

“Sellers need to understand what the campaigns see as their more important audiences and create a package to sell against those,” says McGoldrick.

In fact, broadcasters should become more expert than ad buyers of all kinds in matching people’s viewing and purchasing habits and making buys based on that information easy. In other words, if an ad buyer wants time for a Ford F-150 spot, account executives should be able to determine exactly what shows pickup owners are watching and quickly build a media plan around them.

McGoldrick sees similarities in marketing candidates and cars. Just as you don’t vote every day, he said, “you don’t buy a car every day. It’s not a packaged good. It’s a rational and emotional purchase.”

The Big Data is out there for buyers and sellers to exploit.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or here. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (1)

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Gregg Palermo says:

April 21, 2017 at 7:28 pm

Nice analysis.

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