How Fox News Ad Sales Pitched Obama's Ad Buyers

Cable-News Ratings Leader Talks Ad Trends During Chicago Stop

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Fox News recently left its home base of New York to make a Midwestern swing through Chicago for what it billed as a "Chicago Upfront." At a presentation at Starcom, execs touted all things Fox News, including its longstanding cable news ratings lead. Anchor Bret Baier, in town for the Illinois primary, also made an appearance, charming the crowd of media buyers with an inside look at his show, "Special Report with Bret Baier."

'Special Report with Bret Baier'
'Special Report with Bret Baier' Credit: Fox News

After the sales pitch, Ad Age sat down with the man in charge of generating ad buys, Exec VP-Advertising Sales Paul Rittenberg. Some tidbits: Mr. Rittenberg recently made a sales pitch to Obama's ad buyers. The channel's biggest election-year sponsor is Infiniti. And he joked that Glenn Beck had caused him some hair loss.

Here's a condensed version of our interview:

Advertising Age: Do you get a big ad sales boost in an election year?

Paul Rittenberg: A general-election year, it's probably a 5% to 10% revenue bump vs. what we might otherwise expect based on the marketplace, the economy, etc., etc., etc. Four years ago, frankly, because of the nature of the financial crisis, we didn't really see it. I'm hoping we see double [growth] this year, although who knows. The economy is getting better.

Ad Age : Do you get new buyers in election years?

Mr. Rittenberg: Most political campaigns still buy locally. [But] we have gotten money from the Romney campaign. We got money from the Perry campaign before it exploded. But the real money out of Washington in an election year is issue advertising, places like the American Petroleum Institute. ... My assumption is ... that this is money [that ] in an off-year might just go into lobbying, but in a presidential year they will allocate a fair amount of it to advertising as well.

Ad Age : What about consumer brands -- do you get more interest from them in an election year?

Mr. Rittenberg: A little bit. [But] it tends to follow the ratings . ... The news marketplace tends to be pretty narrow. It's premium products from a sales point of view. For example, in a normal year ... half of our business comes from three categories: automotive, financial services and pharmaceuticals. Older people, people with money. Infiniti [car brand] is our biggest election-year sponsor. We would do business with Infiniti anyway ... but they'll probably spend twice as much this year to be a title election sponsor.

Ad Age : Are you getting buys from super PACs?

Mr. Rittenberg: Well, Romney's [buy] was that , it was called Restore our Future. So we got over a million dollars from them fairly recently. ... [But campaigns] are so sophisticated now about where they need to win. There's six states up for grabs and everything else probably already decided. ... [But] sometimes they buy national to fundraise ... [and] some of it is to just influence the debate.

I would not expect a whole lot of money in the election campaign. I mean, we've talked to Obama's ad agency. As you would probably guess, we're not their go-to channel ... [but] they've got a lot of money to spend. My argument to their media guys is , look, this could be the best money you spend. If you spend a couple million dollars and you convince people who wouldn't have given you a second look, isn't that a smarter media buy than running it someplace where they already are going to vote for you anyway?

Ad Age : What did they say?

Mr. Rittenberg: "We'll think about it."

Ad Age : Just like there is a perception that MSNBC caters to liberals, there's a perception that Fox is for conservatives. When you are selling ads, does that come up? How do you deal with it?

Mr. Rittenberg: It does. ... I used to have more hair before Glenn Beck was on the air [he is no longer on Fox News]. ... I have no problem with people not wanting to run in any show on the channel. People wanted to pull out of Beck, not a problem -- we took well over 200 advertisers out of that show. We will find something on the channel that you can run in. It could be [Special Report with Bret Baier or The Fox Report with Shepard Smith], which is straight-ahead news. It could be our morning show, which is basically a cable version of 'Today.' It's entertainment.

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