The newspaper industry has shifted its political marketing strategy into high gear earlier than ever in an attempt to take advantage of tightening television ad inventory and the glut of campaign advertising dollars flooding the market this cycle.     

After pulling in some $300 million in political ad revenue during the 2010 cycle, newspaper industry experts predict 2012 will result in as much as $450 million in political ad revenue for newspapers across the country; much of that increase is thanks to an explosion in spending by outside groups. 

“What we’re providing to newspapers is info on these Super PACs and advocacy groups,” says John Kimball, whose firm counts the National Newspaper Association among its clients.

Kimball, formerly the chief marketing officer at the NAA, tells C&E that the industry group is furnishing individual newspapers with detailed info on the political missions of various outside groups, as well as which firms are placing their media “so newspapers can try and get out in front of these people.” 

It’s a markedly different strategy than newspapers have employed in cycles past. The political ad market has traditionally been more of a nuisance for newspaper sales managers. Potential campaign advertisers were likely to get handed off to a junior sales rep, and newspapers wouldn’t begin actively courting campaigns until after Labor Day. 

This year, many local newspapers had their political pitches ready to go by mid-summer. Case in point: The Richmond Times-Dispatch, one of the largest newspapers in a battleground state that has already seen millions in presidential advertising dollars spent on television. The Times-Dispatch is putting the full-court press on the political ad category, offering detailed political packages that include everything from direct mail inserts to online pre-roll advertising.     

“Only 10 or 12 percent of media dollars have been spent,” says media consultant Tom Edmonds, whose firm spearheaded a study on the political market for the NAA earlier this year. “There’s less than 100 days and billions to be spent. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like what we’re going to see in the next few weeks.”

Many radio advertisers are just as wide-eyed about this year’s tighter TV ad inventory. Traditionally, radio does its best political business in the final two months before Election Day, when clutter on the TV airwaves reaches a critical mass.

“Radio is starting to see a huge influx into the market,” says Leah Kamon, SVP of marketing and communications at the Radio Advertising Bureau. “We’re going to see some nice halo in 2012, and we believe it’s going to start coming in this last quarter.”

In the first quarter of 2012, political spending by candidates and outside groups on radio totaled $6.9 million. Based on preliminary spending, the RAB projects Q2 political ad sales greater than $22 million, but that number is projected to explode before Election Day. To this point, less than $3 million has been placed on radio between the largest presidential advertisers. That includes both the Obama and Romney campaigns, along with the major issue groups, according to an estimate from SMG-Delta.   

During the 2010 cycle, political spending on radio totaled $308 million, according to the RAB. While Kimball and Edmonds actually expect newspapers to rival or surpass radio’s piece of the ad sale pie this cycle, thanks to the industry’s more aggressive strategies, the RAB bats down that notion. RAB points to a projection from Borrell Associates that estimates radio’s chunk of the 2012 change will be close to $800 million, out of an estimated $9 billion in political spending.

Patrick McGee, vice president of political sales at Katz Radio Group, says the radio industry’s posture toward the political ad market this year is every bit as aggressive as that of the newspaper industry. As the demand for television is stretched and advertisers look to increase exposure to their message in the weeks before Election Day, McGee argues that radio is the best option to keep up with market demand.

“You could very well place a radio spot within the hour,” McGee says. “Overall, we are a much more nimble medium in terms of reacting to the needs of the advertiser.”