As a long-time politico with experience in both national and state races, Carol Dahmen had an instinctive hunch about what Comcast Spotlight needed to convince campaigns and candidates to buy more ads on cable. Apparently the feeling was mutual: Comcast Spotlight first hired her as consultant in 2005 to help with political ad sales, but executives quickly realized they could benefit mightily from her skills and access to her Rolodex. A year later, she joined full-time.
Dahmen was Spotlight’s first political ad sales specialist, dedicated to a political advertising category that generated close to $500 million in local/spot cable spending in 2008, according to NCC. Since her hiring, the company has added political marketing managers in all divisions, according to Dan Sinagoga, Spotlight’s vice president, political advertising.
In Dahmen’s case, connections and credibility were paramount. Dahmen says one of the reasons Comcast hired her in the first place was because the cable industry was having trouble convincing campaign officials that local cable advertising business practices had changed dramatically over the last few years, with new processes that it made it easier to target specific audiences geographically and demographically – and with the rapid-fire turnaround times that candidates demand. Education has been crucial in making consultants understand the intricacies of cable and what the industry has to offer, she says. Today, the efforts are paying off. Close to 60% of Spotlight’s political revenue is being generated at the zone level, reflecting an understanding by candidates that cable offers compelling micro-geographic advantages. There’s also a positive trend happening at the macro level, where, with the advent of super-PACs, political ad dollars are pouring in even during off election years.
Also fueling cable’s increasing share of political advertising budgets have been improved inventory allocation practices and better coordination with campaigns and the consultants who manage their media buys.
But the human dimension is equally important, and in a category where connections are everything, Dahmen’s 18 years in politics and governmental work have helped Comcast Spotlight tell the story. She has held press and media relations positions, overseen public policy and orchestrated program management. She has worked on both Republican and Democratic campaigns, so being non-partisan comes naturally.
A California native, Dahmen started her career as a media consultant for George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988. Shortly after college graduation, she began working on local and statewide Democratic campaigns. She worked for former California Gov. Gray Davis in a number of positions and served as Communications Director for Secretary of State Kevin Shelley before going into the private sector with Comcast Spotlight in 2005.
With her experience and contacts, Dahmen has been instrumental in helping Spotlight navigate the complex political waters that keep California in the national political headlines. Candidate campaigns can be complex in their own right, but it’s the ballot initiatives in California that can be overwhelming – albeit lucrative – for media outlets vying for the ad dollars. In 2005, California had 16 ballot initiatives. That number grew to 21 in three election cycles, Dahmen said. She’s expecting at least 15 ballot initiatives leading up to the 2012 elections. The good news: the ballot initiative campaigns aren’t subject to lowest market rate requirements that can deflate political revenues. In 2012 in California, Dahmen expects the ballot to be filled with 30% candidate elections and 70% initiatives.
The one constant in her job: Every year and every election is different. Moreover, Comcast is constantly adding new products and services to make local cable buys more attractive to advertisers and political consultants. For instance, since Dahmen came on board in 2005, Comcast has dramatically improved its inventory management processes to make sure the company can accommodate candidate advertising demand while at the same time satisfying its regular client base.
“This is a great job,” Dahmen said. “It’s non-partisan and I still get to be involved in politics without all the controversy or long hours. We continue to gain share in every election cycle and consultants are more comfortable buying cable and buying cable deeper. There will always be some consultants that will use the old tried-and-true techniques – broadcast, direct mail and robo-calls – but these are seen less and less as the Holy Grail in political circles. As each campaign cycle goes by, I see more openness by political consultants and willingness to try our new offerings.”
Political sales: a year-round affair for Comcast Spotlight (Aug. 1, 2011)
Political ad intel: closer than you think (June 30, 2011)
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