Having been in the advertising industry for the better part of thirty years I happen to be a huge fan of advertising as a tool for increasing business. I am not however a big fan of government spending money on advertising to promote their political agenda. But that is exactly what the Obama administration did and judging by the comments of the people responsible for the expenditure, they had no idea of the basics of ad buying.

According to the Washington Times the labor department paid a PR firm to run 100+ commercials bragging about the Obama administration’s “green training” job efforts.  The commercials were run on two MSNBC cable shows in 2009, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman.

FYI when a TV buyer purchases TV they are not purchasing number of commercials, they are purchasing a certain number of ratings points at a certain cost per thousand people reached (CPM).

Spending reports under the federal Recovery Act show $495,000 paid to McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations LLC, which the Labor Department hired to raise awareness “among employers and influencers about the [Job Corps] program’s existing and new training initiatives in high growth and environmentally friendly career areas” as well as spreading the word to prospective Job Corps enrollees.  

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The firm ultimately negotiated ad buys for “two approved spots” airing 14 times per week for two months on “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” and “The Rachel Maddow Show,” according to a project report, which listed the number zero under a section of the report asking how many jobs had been created through the stimulus contract.

Forgetting for a second that the entire purchase is objectionable, if the PR firm really based their buy on number of spots—well let’s just say we got screwed.  When TV time is purchased on a CPM basis there is a possibility to negotiate bonus spots if the shows’ ratings tank.

David Williams, president of the nonprofit watchdog Taxpayers Protection Alliance, called the contract “questionable” because it created no jobs and because of the placement of the ads on shows viewed as friendly to the administration’s policies.

“Hiring a PR firm does not create jobs, and this was obviously meant for selling a particular political agenda,” Mr. Williams said. “The placement really reeks of a political ad rather than a job ad, and taxpayers see through this.

“Taxpayers would be a lot happier at the end of the day to see a completed road rather than a bunch of ads on cable television,” he said.

From a strategic point of view this was a lousy ad buy for a few reasons.  First of all a PR firm is not skilled at buying Media.  To get the best rates the labor department should have gone to a media buying service or an ad agency.

In a joint email statement to The Times from two Labor Department spokesmen, David Roberts and Michael Volpe, officials said the money was used for outreach efforts to raise awareness among potential employers about the Job Corps’ green training in career areas, including automotive, advanced manufacturing and solar-panel installation.

Mr. Roberts and Mr. Volpe also said Labor Department research showed that advertisements would reach the target demographic of business owners and managers interested in hiring “green-trained” employees through a programming list that initially also included shows hosted by CNN’s Larry King and public television’s Jim Lehrer as well as the two MSNBC programs where the ads eventually appeared.

An advertiser can also find employers and influencers on the rest of CNN, MSNBC and Fox.  In fact some advertisers might look to advertise on the
Golf Channel to reach influencers. To be honest TV is nice but if I was developing a media plan to reach employers and influencers  (something I have done dozens of times over the past 30 years) the first places I would go would be magazines and newspapers. Also in the consideration set would be direct mail/email and targeted internet/digital.  Those media are far more targeted and more personal than television.  Frankly a national TV buy on two low rated programs will reach very few people within the labor department’s target audience, but will expose them with great frequency.

Public television was eliminated because advertising rates were too high, Labor officials said, and Larry King was dropped because MSNBC held the potential to reach more viewers, officials said. Officials gave no indication whether their research indicated if Fox News, ESPN or other cable outlets were considered for the Job Corps ads.

The Labor Department said that as measured in “gross impressions per spot,” the two MSNBC shows — Mr. Olbermann is no longer with the network — were twice as effective compared with running ads on Mr. King’s show, which also is no longer on the air.

Effective is a tricky word.  If the labor department means that Olbermann had higher ratings than Larry King they are right, but that doesn’t make it more effective. 

Say you were buying dog food at the supermarket. You get to the pet food aisle and see two compatible brands. Brand A is sold in a ten pound bag for 10 dollars, Brand B is sold in a 20 pound bag for 25 dollars. Based on the labor department’s words,  Brand B would be more effective because its bigger. The truth is that you could buy two bags of Brand A, have the same amount of dog food and still have five bucks left over to contribute to Obama’s higher taxes.

On the other hand if Brand B was healthier for the dog you then you might consider it more effective. But according to their explanation, quality of audience was not in their consideration set.

Purchasing advertising time, with stimulus dollars is not the best use of tax payer money especially when you realize we were told the money would be for shovel ready projects to create jobs.  While Keith Olbermann  was and Rachel Madow is good at “shoveling” Obama’s BS into American homes each night these expenditures generated exactly 0 jobs.

If the Obama administration is going to waste our money on an Ad buy, perhaps they could make an effective one, rather than simply rewarding the network which broadcasts his propaganda 24-hours a day.