Media consulting is a field in which there has been and most likely will continue to be an increase in the demand as well as supply of services. According to the Center for Public Integrity media consultants now can earn as much as $200,000 to $500,000 per candidate in a hotly contested Senate or House race (publicintergrity.org). The Center also found that while $1.78 billion was spent on campaign consultants, $1.2 billion of that went to media consultants (publicintegrity.org). Clearly there is money to be made within the context of a political campaign, but there are also rising trends in other areas where media consultants are reaping the benefits. Since 1990 there has been an increase in the use of media consultants to help defeat or ensure the success of initiative campaigns. Not only have media consultants found an ever increasing market for initiative’s, but also in the private sector. Corporations and other organizations are beginning to turn to media consultants for help with a whole range of advertising and media needs. To express this trend on a larger scale, for the period of 2001-2006 “total communications spending increased 6.8% to a record $885.2 billion in 2006 and expanded at a compound annual growth rate of 5.9%....exceeding GDP growth in both periods” (vss.com). To understand media consulting one should review the history of the field as well as investigate the recent trends of increased opportunities in the initiative industry and private corporations.
Media consulting has been around for a large part of the twentieth century. As far back as 1920 Warren Harding used the advertising executives Albert Lasker and William Wrigley Jr. in his campaign. By 1936 Republican Presidential nominee Alfred Landon was the first to use regionally tailored advertising techniques with radio advertisements. It was the 1952 Presidential election that marked the emergence of the media consultant, as the Eisenhower campaign drew from the latest in political advertising and television production. Eisenhower employed Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn advertising agency, writers from Readers Digest, and purchased time from local TV stations. Dan Nimmo commented that the 1950’s saw the first fully orchestrated image campaign. He argued that the 1950’s was the period of “up-front” political advertising as the candidate was the focus.
The 1960’s saw the focus of media advertisements go from a candidate focus to much more of an image focus. It was also during this time that candidates began to use telethons where voters could phone in to ask questions, make appearances on talk and variety shows, as well as schedule campaign events for timely television coverage). Another significant event to occur in the 1960’s occurred in the Kennedy campaign. Kennedy employed Simulmatics Corporation, professional media consultants, which broke the American electorate into 180 different voter types to target with specific media messages.
By the 1970’s the television spots began to put candidates in work situations, talking to people, and offering views on issues as a way to respond to the “issue less” advertising of the 1960s. Consultants began to get candidates to perform thirty minute radio talks as a part of the media strategy. Direct mail also began to be widely used as a means of advertising and fundraising. Consultants even began to prepare and supply local stations with TV or radio clips, which saved the stations time and help to convey the message the consultants wanted.
M. Dane Waters defines the initiative industry as a group of individuals, consultants, and companies that provide free and or paid campaign services to individuals or groups wishing to stop/qualify an initiative for an election ballot, defeat/pass the initiative on election day, and stop/ensure its implementation post-election. The first initiative was on an Oregon ballot in 1904. Now the initiative can be utilized in twenty-four states and has been used 2,021 times for statewide measures with a 41% success rate (821 adopted). Since 1990 there has been an increase in the “initiative industry.” Waters explains that the reason for this increase is because of the recent rise in regulations by state legislatures concerning the process of putting initiatives on the ballot. Due to the greater number of obstacles to put an initiative on the ballot, groups which have access to money can pay consultants to get initiatives on the ballot and ensure their success or failure. Media consultants are a big part of this process as they are the ones who engage in getting the positive or negative message out through direct mail, paid advertising on television, radio, etc. Waters writes that the cost of getting an initiative on the ballot varies from state to state with California as the most expense at $1,000,000 and Montana as the least expensive at $35,000.
As an example of the cost of an initiative campaign Waters gives an estimate of the cost of a typical initiative campaign run in Washington DC. The total overall cost of the campaign is estimated to be around $3,653,500. Of this amount paid advertising would total $2,000,000, the direct mailings $500,000, symposium for each ward of the city $80,000, and media consultant fee for managing this portion of the campaign would be $210,000. Clearly a large portion of this or any other initiative campaign is focused on the media aspect, which a media consultant must plan and manage. As the number of barriers rise for getting an initiative on the ballot the greater the need for consultants to accomplish this goal, especially media consultants, and the greater the cost of each one of these campaigns.
Recently corporations and other organizations have been approaching the media consultants of political consulting firms for help with media decisions. Novotny writes that there is a convergence of public relations, advertising, and political consulting. Consultants are now working for corporations by working with focus groups, testing advertisements for products, crafting commercial spots, and discovering the correct wording for public relations material. Industries that have been using the services of these firms are the utility, pharmaceutical, tobacco, and long-distance telephone companies. Therefore a rising number of political consulting firms, such as National Media and Shandwick Public Affairs, have been setting up subsidiaries to contract work out with these corporations.
An example of consultants contracting out occurred during the 1993 Clinton Administration’s attempt to overhaul the healthcare system. The Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) contracted with Goddard-Claussen/First Tuesday to sway public support against the proposal. The firm used focus groups, surveys, and tracking polls to gauge the public’s reaction to advertisements, which began running in July 1993, months before the plan was unveiled. Over 90% of the $15 million spent on the campaign aired in small to medium markets outside of Washington DC. Due in large part to the media consultants efforts and ability to frame the issue in the public well in advance, the Administration as well as Congressional Democrats were forced to withdraw the proposal weeks before November 1994 elections.
The question is why corporations and other organizations would desire the help of political consulting firms, namely media consultants, and vice versa. The reasons that businesses and other organizations desire the services of media consultants are many but there are a few main ones. One is that consultants have an expertise learned from political campaigns as well as knowledge of local markets that a typical advertising firm may not have. Another reason is the fact that consultants have a prior history with lawmakers and officeholders that can be of great benefit to a business or organization. Lastly media consultants have a quicker turn around time that meets the needs of today’s business world. There are also benefits received by consultants through this relationship. One reason is the erratic nature of campaigns and the fact that it is much less erratic working for businesses or other organizations. Other reasons may be the lure of a new challenge or the desire to shape policy. Lastly there is the desire for money, which is abundantly available when working for corporations or other organizations.
It is clear that media consultants are of an increasing importance in today’s world. A continually larger amount of money is being spent every year to acquire the expertise and services of these consultants. Consultants are continuing to focus primarily on political election campaigns but new opportunities have arisen in recent times. Consultants now have new opportunities in the “initiative industry” as well as working with businesses and other organizations. It appears as if these opportunities currently have no foreseeable end in sight and will continue to be abundant in the future.
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