Is Radio Ready for 2018’s Political Advertising Bonanza?

Today’s blog post is courtesy of Gordon Borrell, CEO, Borrell Associates

A radio owner yawned the other day when I told him about the record year ahead for political advertising — $8.5 billion in all, and all headed for local markets. “We have music stations,” he said… “Political isn’t really something we pursue.”

I’m sure people who listen to music are also voters. And I’m pretty sure that, in a world where big bucks are being thrown at persuasion marketing, radio’s personal connection with listeners makes it perhaps the most persuasive medium.

You don’t have to own an AM Talk station to participate in the bonanza that’s about to gush into local markets next year. We believe, in most markets, political advertising will become a Top 5 advertising category for radio spending (see charts). It will rival spending by the old reliables – restaurants, telecom, jewelry, and banks.



These are merely estimates of what’s likely to happen based on the most relevant election cycle, the mid-term political spending in those markets in 2014. It could be even better for stations that can get their act together and tell the story. Most stations have been a part of their communities for generations, and that has suddenly become important in the wake of ad fraud and fake news.

Political buyers are spooked by what happened in 2016, when ads appeared on websites, in programming, and around content considered unsavory. Spending may not follow the patterns of previous years. Buyers may be far more receptive to a pitch from, say, a reliable, popular local radio station. They might also be willing to spend a little of their digital dollars on radio websites and in their audio streams, shunning programmatic network buys. But that won’t happen automatically. Radio has to make the pitch.

It will undoubtedly be a remarkable year for politics and persuasion advertising. It’s a test run for what might happen in the 2020 Presidential Election Year, and you can bet there will be large investments made to ensure “the right” outcome. In compiling our latest report, “2018 Local Political Advertising Outlook,” we found some remarkable things:

• It’ll be a record year for midterm elections, up 2.5% from 2014 midterm spending.

• Most will come not from the candidates themselves or their sanctioned campaigns, but from local PACs and special interest groups. shows that they’re already gearing up massively at the state and local levels.

• Spending on radio is forecast to hit $564 million. Roughly half will come from state house/senate candidates, ballot issues, and municipal candidates.

• TV still holds the largest share at 39.5%, but digital will surpass cable advertising and likely attain a 22.1% share, or $1.8 billion.

• Nearly 2,000 candidates have already filed for 33 open U.S. Senate seats.

A lot of stations should be asking themselves: How do I get this so-called bonanza? Whom do I talk to? Where do I start? A good start would be to invest a little time checking out the PAC money in your state at Another is to start building relationships with state and local political party chairs. Talking with folks at the various trading desks would also be advisable, since they typically have someone assigned to work with the PACs and parties.

I’m convinced it’ll be a great year for radio stations that don’t think of their audience as listeners, but as voters.

If you’d like to learn more about this report, you can sign up for a free RAB members benefit webinar here.


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