September 25, 2014 by Bruce Mentzer
Candidates are allowed the lowest-unit-rate (LUR) for media buys within the 45-day Primary and 60-day General election windows. Make sure you are using them.
During this time all candidate media buys should be placed at the lowest-unit-rate allowed for TV, cable and radio. By law, media outlets have to offer all Federal candidates access to media, at the lowest rate offered for that week for each program. Non-federal candidates are not guaranteed access, and media outlets can turn them away, however, most allow them to advertise. Once they do allow non-federal candidates access to the airwaves, they have to abide by LUR rules for them as well.
The catch? The LUR is immediately preemptible (IP) so it is a bit risky for those who do not know how to play the game and stay on top of the system. IP means that if someone comes in at a higher rate, or the program is sold out, that the station can bump that advertiser last minute with no notice. You find out later that the spot did not air and the station then will offer a “make-good” to run at a later time. However, early in the window, usually thru even late September or early October, depending upon the market, most or much of a schedule will clear at the LUR. You have to place at this level because if you go in at a higher rate level the media outlets will not rebate you the difference if there was in fact room for the LUR placed spot to air. It’s an auction, and you have to pay attention to every spot, in every program, on every station, in every market to “play” the game and secure the media for the lowest cost possible. It’s hand holding and babysitting for sure — but qualified media buyers know how to work the system, and get the majority of the ads to run at the lowest rate levels. Long term relationships in the industry help greatly in that most media reps will advise or counsel you prior to a spot not airing so you can make any changes if needed before it is preempted.
Closer to the election date it is possible that some popular programming areas will no longer be able to clear at the lowest rate, in that case you bump up only one level to the next tier on the rate card for that program. There can be up to 7 tiers of rates for each program rising from LUR up to Preemptible with 7-days notice. It’s like raising your bid in an auction ever so incrementally so you can still acquire what you are after but for the least amount possible.
Placing your buys earlier than the few days prior to starting can also help more of your schedule clear at the lower rates because stations usually operate on a “first-in, last-out” philosophy with LUR advertisers. Placing weeks or months in advance helps even more. You know you are going to be on the air those final weeks — so why not lay down the buys earlier to secure the best programming and have a much greater chance of your schedule clearing at the lower rates.
Questions about LUR or candidate placement? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org at Mentzer Media.