African-American Media Waiting on Barack's Big Bucks

Think He Doesn't Need to Court Them? Think Again, Say the Experts

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WASHINGTON ( -- In 2004, the John Kerry campaign made a July announcement that it would make a $2 million buy in African-American media. The buy, said African-American media experts, was never completed. BET got some money, but not much went elsewhere, they said. This time around, they're hoping for better from Sen. Barack Obama.
Obama: Presumptive Democratic nominee has cash to spend, but will he?
Obama: Presumptive Democratic nominee has cash to spend, but will he? Credit: Charlie Neibergall

Mr. Obama might want to move beyond race, but African-American media outlets are hoping he remembers his roots. Not only would it benefit their particular media sector, it could also have an impact on congressional and local races.

"We are very optimistic," said Sherman K. Kizart, senior VP-director of urban marketing for Interep, which as the country's biggest independent radio rep firm represents more than 100 urban-format stations. He said his company is in talks with Fuse Advertising, the St. Louis agency that handles the Obama campaign's African-American efforts.

So far, the campaign has done relatively little spending in urban radio, black-aimed cable TV or African-American newspapers.

Obama Nascar
An Obama spokesman said African-American media has been "a high priority to the campaign and will continue to be in the remaining months." He said the campaign is not in a position to disclose its media strategy. On the opposite side of the coin, Sports Illustrated reported last week that Mr. Obama would be the first presidential candidate to become the primary sponsor of a car in a Nascar race.

As the Obama campaign is unconstrained by public funding and has a mountain of cash at hand, the question might be: Why wouldn't it spend with African-American media outlets?

Louis Carr, president of media sales for BET Networks, said the cable network also is in talks with Fuse, and he is hopeful.

"I've been here 22 years. There has always been real concern that the [African-American] audience is not taken for granted," he said. "We're assuming from the Democratic side that that won't happen this time around. The audience has to be motivated to get out and vote."

Anything is possible
Conventional wisdom holds that African-Americans will vote Democratic anyway. And in a race in which the Democratic candidate is a black man with a healthy lead in the polls, some have suggested that big spends in the African-American market might not be necessary.

Of course, others disagree, pointing out reasons why Mr. Obama -- or the party, at any rate -- should spend in this arena. Mr. Carr said a black audience motivated to vote could have a major impact on congressional and local elections. Large numbers of Obama voters likely would vote a straight Democratic ticket, which could give the party a bigger lead in Congress.

"The black vote is instrumental in many of the black politicians' success," said Dorothy Leavell, president of the Crusader Newspapers in Gary, Ind., and Chicago and chairman of the marketing committee of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Ms. Leavell said the Obama campaign bought a few ads during the primary fights in Indiana, North Carolina and Philadelphia but did no extensive spending in African-American papers or on their websites. She estimated that total spending in African-American newspapers during the primary was less than $100,000. Still, she said she is hopeful that the spending will come and that newspapers may yet see a return to the kind of spending done when Bill Clinton first ran and nearly $1 million was spent.

She also said readership of black daily newspapers hasn't dropped as much as that of other daily papers in part because readers find news they can't find elsewhere. "If you want to read about blacks, you've got to read the black newspapers," she said.

African-American agency experts agree.

Younger voters key
"The Obama campaign should take nothing for granted," said Don Coleman, chairman-CEO of multicultural agency GlobalHue. "They need to pay particular attention to the 18-to-30 demo. Urban radio, cable and the web are all essential. That's not to imply the mass [African-American] target should be ignored. The traditional Democratic voter will come to the polls. The hard-to-count and younger voter will propel him to victory."

And if Mr. Obama and other Democrats boost spending in the sector, it could lead to Republican spending as well. Some African-American media players hold out limited hope that Sen. John McCain might run a few ads countering claims made by Mr. Obama.

While the McCain campaign has shown no indication of buying African-American advertising, Mike Hudome, head of the campaign's advertising team, said it is possible. "We aren't ruling out anything. That's for sure."
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