Elnatan Rudolph, a senior account executive with New York political consulting firm Sheinkopf, used an online ad-auction system from Softwave Media Exchange during the recent elections and was impressed.
From two weeks to three days
"For the Service Employees International Union, we did a $750,000 [ad] buy in 17 markets [in New York] for congressional races. We wouldn't have had the time or ability to execute the buy as efficiently as we did. ... The buy would have taken us two weeks and they did it in three days." Sheinkopf also bought time for races in Alabama and Pennsylvania.
Come 2008, any smart media buyer who wants to to get a client's messages on TV within a day will be looking to use online ad inventory exchanges, he said.
Softwave Media Exchange, known as SWMX, is beginning to put together its broadcast TV platform in time for the 2008 presidential race. The biggest barrier candidates faced to reacting swiftly to accusations and slights by rivals has been the huge number of calls political ad buyers have to make to local TV and radio station managers to create a patchwork quilt of responses. Politicians and interest groups using SMWX were able to get on air in less than 24 hours. The political talk after the Democrats retook control of the House and Senate focused on the party's swift response to attack ads.
Interest in online ad exchanges -- and not only for political ad buys -- is growing. EBay is currently building a new auction system that would allow marketers to either input the price they want to pay and match them with a willing media partner or offer marketers a chance to bid on ad inventory at a set price. Smaller companies such as SWMX are already in the online auction business and are attempting to go beyond radio and local cable to add local broadcast TV airtime.
Bill Figenshu, a former regional president of Citadel Broadcasting, is chief operating officer at SWMX. "I think we're the secret weapon for the presidential elections. The midterms were just a warm up to 2008."
"A candidate doesn't wake up and say, 'Let me buy Clear Channel.' They say, 'Where are the voters we need to reach and how can I get them quickly?' Where is the best opportunity for the Democrats or the Green Party? Something that would have taken four to five days to plan before we do in an hour."
SWMX received a license from the Federal Communications Commission to put together a political ad platform during the midterm elections. The platform consisted of radio and local cable in areas where there were hotly contested races and was offered to consultants buying for individual candidates and issue advertisers.
Online auctions can also make life easier for local TV and radio stations. So-called candidate buys are low-priced, because the law ensures that candidates get the lowest rate a station has offered in the 45 days prior to an election, though issue advertisers must pay full rate and everyone must pay cash in advance. Unlike marketers, candidates have no qualms about putting all their money on table, because it can't be returned to donors.
Because online media exchanges have existed primarily on remnant ad inventory -- inventory that was scarce during the election -- SWMX's strategy of creating a specific ad platform looks to be a prescient. The company racked up sales of more than $1 million during September.
Hoping to add broadcast to mix
Mr. Figenshu is negotiating to add broadcast TV to the online-auction mix during the next few weeks. "We plan to launch a broadcast TV platform in the next few weeks for Iowa [caucuses]," said Mr. Figenshu, a radio industry veteran. "We have a radio platform, cable TV platform and we plan on rolling out the broadcast TV platform in the next eight weeks."
While many broadcast media companies have been reluctant to make their inventory available to third parties, Mr. Figenshu indicates that radio groups such as CBS Radio saw so much money walk in the door, it might give their TV siblings pause for thought.