At the end, we cut more than 50 unique small-market radio spots, featuring Gov. Nixon speaking directly about his experiences—either personal or as a public official in their communities. Each spot then pivoted back to our poll-tested message.
We knew we couldn’t deliver a TV message specific to some of the small counties where we were targeting GOP voters. And it can be difficult to connect on a personal level with rural voters through online advertising, particularly true in regions where many residents still don’t have high- speed Internet.
Producing this many individual radio spots was a labor intensive effort, as the governor spent the better part of a weekend in a room with Doc Sweitzer, our media consultant, to record each of these unique local appeals. But it was time well spent.
It’s important to note that the localized radio campaign didn’t come at the expense of rural online ads, it supplemented our digital effort. We used online advertising to target the same voters who heard the radio spots, typically linking them to more information about the governor’s record on agriculture, sportsmen issues or local economic achievements.
In a campaign that spent over $10 million on paid media, the vast majority of which was spent on television, I wouldn’t suggest that localized radio was the absolute difference maker. But in a state that President Obama lost by 9.4 percent, Gov. Nixon won by 12 percent—a margin of victory made possible because he won 22 percent of Republican voters. Nixon was the top Democratic vote-getter in 44 rural counties, many of which were targeted with our localized radio campaign.
To be clear, there’s nothing new about running large-scale localized radio programs; campaigns have been doing it for years, because it makes perfect sense. That’s why it’s stunning that so many statewide campaigns either don’t localize their radio spots at all, or don’t take the time and effort to do it well, particularly in reelection efforts where the incumbent office holder has real local stories to tell.
Radio may not be as cool as Twitter, as fun as Instagram, or as addictive as Pinterest. But just as it would be foolish for a modern campaign not to reach the two-thirds of American adults who use Facebook, it would be foolish not to communicate in a targeted way with the millions of Americans who consume radio every single day.
Oren Shur is the IE director at the Democratic Governors Association. He served as campaign manager for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) 2012 reelection effort.