Iowa Stations Cash In...Eventually

Primary coming to your town? Be forewarned, ad money may arrive late

Rick Santorum may have
gained the most politically
among GOP presidential candidates
in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses,
though the real winners were Iowa TV
stations. But if you are at a station with
this election circus coming to town, be
warned: Dollars came in late in Iowa.

In the end, the political ad spend
reached the level local TV executives expected
in Iowa, where multiple sources
estimate the ! gure at about $17 million.
But it didn’t come easily. Local TV execs
cite a number of factors for the inconsistent
spending, including the late announcement
of Iowa’s caucus date and
the high number of Republican candidate

“If you had asked me a month ago, I
would’ve been a little leery about when
and if the money would come in as
we’d budgeted for this year,” says John
Huff, general sales manager at KWWL
Cedar Rapids. “But the past few weeks,
it arrived.”

While many sales executives in the
state’s TV markets expected a consistent
flow from the Republican hopefuls
throughout 2011, it was a deluge
in recent weeks—driven by so-called
Super PAC (Political Action Committee)
cash—that finally brought the numbers
up to the forecasted levels.

“Four years ago, Romney had six
months of advertising,” says Dale
Woods, president and general manager
of WHO Des Moines. “This time, it was
four weeks.”

Stations hit their political numbers
despite a relative dearth of candidates
spending on TV, thanks in part to an incumbent
president. The 2007-08 caucus
lead-up involved both the Republican
and Democratic parties, and had around
10 candidates spending on Iowa television;
only a handful of candidates spent
significantly this year.

Republican presidential candidate Rick
Perry—who was never in the race on
Jan. 3—spent the most money on television
advertising heading into the Iowa
caucuses, according to an informal poll by
of local TV station executives. Execs
say that a Super PAC that independently
supports front-runner Mitt Romney
was the second-largest spender.

Iowa TV executives also say PAC
money, which typically pops up in the
general election, ended up accounting
for close to half of the recent total political
spending in the state. This time
around, there is no limit on what the
Super PAC’s (like the Restore Our Future
Super PAC that backs Romney) can
spend, as long as they operate independently
of a candidate.

Much of that spending went towards
negative advertising. While conventional
wisdom says meanness does not
play in Iowa, the PAC ads’ often attacking
nature seems to have worked, with
various groups talking down candidate
Newt Gingrich, say local TV execs,
more than they talked up their own
preferred choices.

“It’s normally never negative here, but
that’s one dynamic I’ve seen change with
the PAC money involved,” says WHO’s
Woods. “The candidate buys are positive,
but the PAC money is negative. I
think that’s a dynamic you’ll see all over
the country.”