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How Local Campaigns Maximize Advertising Dollars

Local campaigns must get creative when they are trying to advertise but are strapped for cash.

If you live in Bloomington, chances are you started seeing TV ads like this one a couple months ago:

That piece, for House candidate Peggy Mayfield, was one of the first to air this election season. This one for her opponent Democrat Peggy Welch, was released more recently:

Consulting Firms Key To Local Campaigns

No matter which party the ads are from, it is a little like Christmas for the firms which create the spots.

Political races can be decided many places – at the ballot box, in the Statehouse, and, as it turns out, in a third floor office with purple walls and muted lighting on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis. It is the home of the Englehart Group, a consulting firm which gets about a quarter of its revenue from political campaigns.

The place is run by two guys. One is Blair Englehart, a Republican with slicked back hair who’s always fidgeting with his smartphone. Englehart’s partner is Ray Volpe, a Democrat whose father served 16 years in Vanderburgh County as county auditor and treasurer. It is here that this story already diverges from what party insiders on both sides will tell you about how agencies run.

“Someone who is Democrat-leaning would not want to work on a Republican campaign and vice versa, and that makes perfect sense,” Indiana Republican Party spokesman Pete Seat says.

“They are segregated, almost entirely, into Democratic firms and Republican firms,”former Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Kip Tew says. “There’s a few firms over the years have gotten away with doing both sides, but not very many.”

Both Seat and Tew say many agencies prefer working under the radar.

Crossing Party Lines

The Englehart Group is a Republican agency, mostly. For instance, they did ads for this guy in anticipation of this year’s gubernatorial primary.

“We’ve got spots on here that we never even ran because he screwed up,” Englehart says, looking at ads on his laptop, which clearly rekindle memories of the campaign. Wallaces campaign ended when Wallace did not secure enough valid signatures to stay on the ballot.

But the agency also works for Democrats. Here’s where the shadowy nature of advertising as Seat and Tew describe it becomes apparent.

Englehart said he could show the reporter a ad his company did for a Democrat, but only if it was off the record. Englehart said if he showed the ad, it could get him in “a lot of trouble.”

Suffice to say the candidate is an up-and-coming Democrat and the ad is like many others – showing interactions with family and friends. It is a good example of what Seat says many small campaigns need to do before November 6: build recognition.

“You’re gonna have to put up more ads more frequently, especially if you have low name ID, Englehart says. “Usually the first phase of advertising is about getting your name out there, letting people know who you are, where you stand on issues.”

Advertising For Cheap

Englehart says that can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000 per ad, and that does not include buying time on TV stations.

“What you want to try to do is look at the total budget spent,” he says. “Say a guy’s spending a quarter million dollars. Well you can’t afford to do a $50,000 television commercial.”

So the campaigns sometimes have to get creative, like this example Seat gives of a recent GOP spot.

“We recently put together a very short,  it was about a three-minute web ad that was nothing more than scrolling text that looked like a Tele-Promp-Ter running on my iPhone through an app that I downloaded, recorded from someone else’s iPhone that we uploaded directly to YouTube from the phone,” Seat says. “The cost to put that together was probably $5 or $6  in just the time it took us to do it.”

More campaigns are now doing cable advertising, Ray Volpe says, because it can be targeted.

“In Indianapolis itself, I believe there are five or six different zones you can buy,” Volpe says. “So if you’re just going after the south side of Indianapolis because it’s a race that just affects the south side, you can buy that.”

But Englehart says it is also about knowing the territory, especially if TV does not make sense.

“We handled the mayor’s race for Elwood, Indiana – Ron Arnold,” Englehart says. ” I think that whole campaign was just outdoor boards because the way the city was located everybody in Elwood had to drive by these outdoor boards every day, so it was a perfect scenario.”

Most small campaigns this cycle will go door-to-door and send mailers to each household in a district, because TV and radio spots are often too costly.

In general, the more competitive a race is, the more money will be spent and the earlier ads will appear. That cash goes to firms from Washington, D.C. to Indianapolis which work on behalf of campaigns – 30 seconds at a time.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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