Hillary Clinton unveiled a massive ad buy this week but behind the scenes has started strategically shuffling her media resources.
On Monday, the same day her campaign trumpeted $80 million in reserved TV time and $15 million in radio spots, it released TV time in Pennsylvania. That time was picked up by Senate Majority PAC and VoteVets, according to Brad Mont, a Republican ad buyer.
The move, which comes as Clinton is leading by more than 9 points in a Keystone State polling average, hints at a shift in focus for Democrats toward congressional races.
“They’ve been moving stuff all over the board,” said Mont.
The moves are part of the bait-and-switch that goes into TV buying each cycle — not all reserved inventory gets used. But the usual shuffling is being played out with more room on the board than ever before. In comparison to Clinton’s $80 million fall reservation, Donald Trump’s campaign recently announced reserving $4.8 million in TV ad time in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“I’ve never seen a cycle when one side’s not competing,” said Mont, who worked for a Super PAC support Jeb Bush during the primaries. “You would assume at one point the money’s going to come in, but I’ve never seen these kinds of numbers before.”
Trump’s PAC allies aren’t making up the slack. Rebuilding America Now, the Alex Castellanos-run Super PAC unveiled in June, spent just over $1.5 million last quarter while it’s been promised “$32 million in commitments.”
There’s an opportunity now for down-ballot candidates — especially in states like Virginia where the presidential contest has been written off (Clinton canceled her buy there) and there’s no statewide on the ballot.
“I’d try to get out there early while it’s cheap and build my name ID, or cement my image or take out my opponent,” said Mont. “For the month of September, airtime is going to be cheap. Everyone will benefit from the lack of inventory pressure. You’re looking at bonus dollars.”
Not every media buyer sees “bonus dollars” on the board.
“There are some markets, particularly in Florida, where costs are as high this early as they’ve been since 2008,” said Neal McDonald, a Republican media buyer. “Trump’s lack of spending only affects the down-ballot campaigns in the swing states and will have little-to-no effect in the other forty-plus states.
“Plus, you’ll have to keep any eye [on] how competitive the Senate races are in a number of swing states, which will further drive up the ad costs.”
McDonald, who worked for a pro-John Kasich Super PAC during the primaries, said Trump’s lack of spending won’t have a considerable impact on the 2016 media landscape, but agrees that now is a good time to go up.
“If any down-ballot campaigns have the means to go up early, they should take advantage of it,” he said. “In the very least, take a chance on placing ads ahead of time for October in hopes the better rates will stick.”
Now, media buyers do have a vested interest in stampeding campaigns into additional TV spending — but that’s usually done by highlighting scarcity. With record spending happening each cycle, it’s rare to hear about a dearth of TV ads.
But that dearth of advertising from Trump, if he loses, could have a lasting impact. In fact, Mont speculated that Clinton might keep some powder dry and have a considerable war chest banked in November. In that scenario, her campaign’s cash on hand could be brought to bear on the 2018 midterms or specific agenda issues.
After the campaign is over, Mont speculated, “she may be sitting on $200-$300 million.”