Early State News Sites, Not As Primary As You Might Think: So Far, Dem's Ignore 'Em

Most of America's voters may feel a tad inconsequential compared to those thunder-stealing residents of early presidential primary states. Iowa- and New Hampshire-based online media outlets, on the other hand, don't hold as much sway -- yet.

In October, PoliticsOnline founder Phil Noble told MediaDailyNews to stay on the lookout for local online ads for democratic presidential primary contenders. "If I were those campaigns, I'd be buying all kinds of local media," he quipped.

With the Iowa caucuses little more than a month away and the New Hampshire primaries soon to follow, most campaigns have not helped to materialize Noble's forecast. Some small strides have been made, however. The John Kerry campaign, for instance, ran a banner in the Jobs section of Iowa's DesMoinesRegister.com until early this month. According to Susan Paterson Plank, DesMoinesRegister.com's VP of marketing, the site hasn't engaged in any initiatives to promote ad opportunities to political advertisers in conjunction with the upcoming caucuses.

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The Sioux City Journal isn't doing much to woo caucus candidates, either, says Al Kirts, the newspaper's new media sales manager. Kirts is surprised he hasn't seen more interest from political advertisers lately, but it may be only a matter of time. "If it's going to break," he predicts, "it'll probably break loose after the first of the year."

Attracting the attention of political campaign advertisers is no easy task. Sandy McKiney, national advertising manager for the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier, has received calls from agencies hired by candidates, although most won't divulge for whom they're working. "They're very aloof," she concludes. "They don't want the next guy to know what they're doing unless they're ready to break something." McKiney also foresees political advertiser interest in the web site picking up after the holidays.

A few presidential wannabes have paid New Hampshire residents a bit more mind. For the past two months, a banner for General Wesley Clark's campaign has been running on The Concord Monitor Online as well as its primary-centric site, Primary Monitor. In addition, the organization that helped propel Clark to his current candidate status, Draft Clark 2004, placed ads on Primary Monitor this summer. Draft Clark ads also made their way onto Manchester's The Union Leader site. And for the past few months a tile ad promoting Clark has run throughout the site and is scheduled through the end of January, according to Steve Krammes, national advertising manager.

Although the Howard Dean campaign appears to be neglecting direct ad placement on local online media, Google AdSense ads for his general campaign site as well as the Howard Dean for New Hampshire site can be seen on Primary Monitor. According to Dean's New Hampshire communications director, Dorie Clark, there's been "no concerted strategy" for placing online ads that are specifically targeted to early primary states.

Not everyone reads his hometown broadsheet, so could it be that political advertisers are geographically targeting ads placed on more widely read news sites? Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, AOL, and The Wall Street Journal Online say that has yet to happen. Three presidential hopefuls have been running ads on AOL's news channel for a month or so, but none have specifically targeted early primary states. Michael Bassik, manager of media strategy for AOL's interactive marketing department, expects campaigns to do more demographic targeting than geographic targeting as primary elections draw near.

And although no national political advertisers are geo-targeting ads on washingtonpost.com or the Newsweek site, Don Marshall, director of communications at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, sees a "huge potential" for candidates when it comes to geo-targeting on nationally read news sites. "Advertisers may not get huge numbers," he admits, but they will attract "highly qualified and "influential" people in targeted states.

It simply may be too early for primary candidates to be considering locally targeted online media; after all, the Web continues to remain an afterthought for most political advertisers. Still, other factors come into play. For one, targeting voters in primary states may not be especially important when the goal is building momentum or raising campaign funds. In that case, targeting an influential and affluent audience, regardless of the location, is the desired effect.

Or, suggests Peter Bakke, online manager at the Concord Monitor, perhaps it's a downfall of newspapers in general, be they print or online. "Why advertise with somebody who's writing about you every day anyway?" he asks.

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