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Newspapers, The Missed Media Opportunity

By Joanna Smith

Newspaper endorsements and news coverage is sought after, courted and depended upon for campaigns to engage voters in communities across the United States.

Nationwide, newspapers have been ranked as the media used most by the “Influential” community. (MRI: Survey of the American Consumer, Wave 51) Local newspapers, overwhelmingly, still hold the largest share of the adult audience in their market compared to any other local media.

Yet, few campaigns include newspaper as a significant part of their advertising strategy. Many of these campaigns spend the majority of their ad budgets on television, direct mail, radio and even phone banks to help influence the electorate. Has newspaper political advertising been overlooked?

Some campaigns are beginning to take a fresh look at newspaper advertising and what is can bring to a campaigns media mix. In July 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported on two specific campaigns and their new campaign media mix, which added newspapers as a considerable part of their campaign advertising budget.

U.S. Congresswoman, Nancy Boyda, unseated a republican in a conservative Kansas district in 2006, using a newspaper insert program as the main media. Governor Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) won his first gubernatorial in 2002 and then re-election in 2006 depending largely on both newspaper inserts and in print advertising.

What both campaigns saw was the quality and quantity of the readers newspaper’s have. "We've found the best way to reach voters with our campaign message is through the use of South Dakota newspapers," says Gov. Rounds, in a written testimonial. Adds Gov. Rounds: "People who read newspapers vote in elections."

The market research bears out the Governor’s antidotal evidence. Of all voters in the 2006 election, 74.2% of them are active newspaper readers either in print or online. (Lee Tracking Survey Election Supplement 2006). Newspapers are charged with the responsibility to chronicle the life and lives of the community and citizens they serve.

Newspaper readers; therefore, choose to educate themselves about their community and the lives of people around them. These same readers then care enough to go to the polls to vote on issues which would affect their community.

Steve Boyda (Campaign Manager and husband to Nancy Boyda, D--Kansas), is quoted to say “Anybody who thinks that people don’t read newspapers anymore doesn’t live in a small town.”

Newspapers have weathered the introduction of radio and television into the mass media space, and overall continue to be the dominant media in most U.S. markets. One newspaper company, Lee Enterprises, which predominantly owns mid to small sized markets, recently reported a usage growth of their print and online newspapers from 67% to 71% by adults in their top markets. (Wilkerson & Associates, 2007)

The Boyda campaign took advantage of this behavior in their race in rural Kansas, were people still care whose child it is that is on the front page of sports.

Additionally, both of these campaigns reaped the benefits of the fact newspaper reader’s turn to the paper to seek out advertising. Over many decades, newspapers have trained their readers to look for advertising from their local grocery, department and local retail stores in their newspaper.

Newspaper advertising is non-intrusive for the reader, it is there for them to seek out at their leisure. And seek it out they do, 46% of Americans prefer to receive their advertising through newspapers, with television being second at 10% (How America Shops and Spends, Mori 2005), 49% of newspaper readers take the newspaper simply for the advertising and not the editorial content (NAA, 2004).

Rounds and Boyda discovered newspaper readers would pay more attention to their newspaper ads than any other form and they used this knowledge to their advantage in getting elected and re-elected.

As many campaigns do not run much newspaper advertising, how to run a successful newspaper campaign is a concept which eludes them. Advertising principles which apply in broadcast also apply to newspapers, and quite simply, frequency matters.
Voters need (and want) to be reminded about what it is a campaign is telling them.

Additionally, newspapers are evolving perpetually in their ability to target messages to specific demographic or geographic targets. From inserts, polybags, front page notes and specialty publications to the internet, the newspaper’s product line has the ability to reach nearly every voter in any given district.

Both Rounds and Boyda were aware of this. Boyda used a weekly insert campaign for 12 weeks and Rounds used a combination of inserts and a steady in print advertising campaign for several weeks.

Newspaper websites, tend to be the leading local website in their community. Political advertising on those sites is evolving as this article is being written, with new success stories being written every day.

The Element Agency found success in running on all of the Montana local newspaper sites in 2006 stating “…The advertising campaign had click through rates and results that were 7-10 times above average and proved to be a crucial tactic that helped lead to victory on Election Day.”

The Element Agency discovered the newspaper’s website attract a slightly younger audience than the print product, but still afforded the same high level of audience quality the newspaper’s print edition does. Online newspaper readers, as with their print counterparts, tend to care about their community and go to the polls. In fact 91% of online newspaper readers are registered voters. (Belden, 2005).

What the Boyda Campaign, the Rounds Campaign and the Element Agency found is really quite simple, local newspapers are live and strong. They reach a significant number of the adult population across the United States. The audience newspapers deliver, both in print and online, are the people campaigns need to reach most. They care about what goes on in their communities, and they vote.

By advertising in newspapers these campaigns were able to get their message heard, leading their candidates to victory. These campaigns are representative of the growing trend of campaigns seized the advertising opportunities local newspaper can provide, and lead them to a win on Election Day.
Joanna Smith is Sales Development Manager in charge of
Political Advertising, at Lee Enterprises, Inc., which
publishes 55 daily newspapers in 23 states.

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