What Is The Political Consultant Fee Structure For Online Ads?

A couple of weeks ago, the NY Times ran this op-ed (boldface mine):

President Trump may not be up for re-election until 2020, but since May 31, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee — his re-election campaign — has spent $629,500 on advertising on Google platforms alone, making it the top spender on political ads on Google platforms. That’s nearly $200,000 more than the No. 2 spender, One Nation, a right-wing organization focused on influencing Senate elections…

And then there are the Democrats: The average nonpresidential Democratic campaign spends only 10 percent to 15 percent of its budget on digital channels while pouring 60 percent to 70 percent of its budget into television ads and direct mail. That is shocking, especially because people now spend an average of 5.9 hours online every single day, with 3.3 of those hours on mobile devices.

So why are Democratic campaigns ignoring such obvious opportunities to engage with voters? I’m honestly not sure; perhaps old habits are hard to break. But outdated models aren’t going to win in this digital world. Unlike the Democrats, Republican candidates and right-wing organizations are prioritizing the right channels.

In the average 2016 Senate general election, Republicans outspent Democrats by a three-to-one ratio on YouTube, AdWords and other Google channels. From January to June, during the primaries, this gap was even wider at 20 to one.

It’s even worse for down-ballot, state-level campaigns, which are under-resourced in both manpower and financial support. A typical state legislative campaign might run with an average budget of $150,000 (just 10 percent of the budget of a successful federal House race). With a smaller budget, you need to be intentional and efficient. Why spend money on TV ads, which are often aired beyond your voting district or skipped entirely with DVRs, when you could be utilizing Google AdWords and Facebook ads that can zero in on specific ZIP codes and target voters by segment or even language?

I’ll put this out there: it’s the consultants, stupid. One of the big problems Democrats face is that their consultants get a 15% commission on TV ads. So, obviously, there’s an incentive to purchase expensive ads, as opposed to get out the vote campaigns (for which there are no commissions). The Democratic Party also wants candidates to use certain vendors and suppliers, even if they’re more expensive (this is really costly at the local level).

If online ads are cheap, then the bog standard Democratic consultant won’t want to spend on them. So, if the consultants aren’t extracting very much from online ads–and as best as I can tell, they aren’t–then Democrats using ‘party regulars’ will not be spending their money effectively. Something to think about when donating.

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