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Summer of ads: Businesses are urged to plan ahead as Dean gets jump on rivals


It has started sooner than expected, as it always does in the months leading to a presidential election.

The race to advertise on Central Iowa’s television stations began earlier this month when former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean began what some estimate to be a $100,000 local television campaign.

The 30-second commercial, which features Dean delivering a monologue in front of a red barn and a tractor, is called “Take Back Our Country.” In it, Dean calls for “Democrats to be Democrats again” amid criticism of President George Bush’s foreign and domestic policies.

So far, Dean’s efforts are decidedly unilateral. He’s the only Democratic contender who has purchased advertising time and it might be some time before his rivals join him on the airwaves. It remains to be seen whether his early start will garner him any advantage at the Iowa caucuses or beyond.

“It’s a pretty significant buy,” said Ted Stephens, vice president and general manager of KDSM Fox 17. “There is more money being spent earlier than has happened in the past.”

Stephens said Dean’s current ad campaign would last through July and that another would begin immediately afterward. The Dean campaign didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

What Dean’s ad blitz does mean, according to media buyers and those who sell advertising, is that companies that want to advertise locally ought to be thinking ahead when it comes to buying airtime for the rest of the year.

“I would advise our clients to plan accordingly,” said Cyndi Fisher, head of public relations at Flynn Wright, which handles marketing, PR and advertising. “They have to be flexible and be able to shift their plans if demand increases and if TV space begins to tighten up.”

Part of the reason that the candidates appear to be purchasing television advertising so early this year is because of the date of the Iowa caucuses itself. They’re scheduled to be earlier in 2004 than they ever have. The caucuses will be held on Jan. 19, followed by the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27. In 2000, the Iowa caucuses were held on Jan. 24. In 1996, they were held on Feb. 19.

Stephens estimates that candidates spent a total of $3 million in local advertising for the 2000 caucuses.

The other reason for early spending could be that there are nine candidates, an unusually large number, vying for the Democratic Party nomination in 2004. Each needs to have his or her message heard.

Dean’s rivals are former ambassador and Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York City.

So far, there is no immediate danger of advertising time being sold out for the remainder of the summer, some said.

“Time is tight in August but it’s not sold out,” said Lori Strum, who is the media director at Porter & Associates, a West Des Moines-based agency.

Some advertising sales executives at local television stations said they hadn’t yet seen much politically oriented advertising yet this year, but that they expected an influx by October.      “It’s a bad time to spend money,” said Bill Frame, media director at The Integer Group, an advertising and public relations company. “People aren’t in tune and caring about it yet.

There is some incentive for candidates to delay their advertising until closer to the caucuses. Frame said candidates receive preferential rates from television stations within 90 days of the event.

“There will definitely be some action by the fourth quarter,” said Dave Porepp, general sales manager at KCCI-TV. “Who would have thought that Dean would be on now?”

Billboard space tight

With summer upon us, at least one rule of the season is proving true: billboard advertising space is tough to find.

“It’s been difficult these past few months to get any kind of placement,” said Cyndi Fisher, head of public relations at Flynn Wright, a marketing and advertising firm.

Warm weather and people’s tendency to spend more time outside usually leads companies that buy outdoor advertising time to purchase more in June, July, August and September. This year is no different, local media buyers and advertising executives said.

“We’re pretty booked up through the end of July, possibly to the middle of August,” said Teri Wood, president of Clear Channel Outdoor in Des Moines, the biggest owner of billboard space in Central Iowa.  

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