Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Media Buyer Plays Vital, Unsung Role in Politics

"Don't think GM doesn't know where Ford is spending every one of their dollars," he said.

As the media buyer and sales representative talk about the business they're doing together, the buyer constantly prods the sales representative about what buys the opposing campaign is making. Because the information will eventually be public anyway, and in order to maintain that relationship, the sales representative often tells the buyer about ad reservation changes coming from the other campaign.

Republicans and Democrats agree that there is no ideological motive at play for the sales representative.  

As soon as a reservation is upped or canceled, the sales representative will call the opposition media buyer. The media buyer will then relay the information to campaigns, and phones ring all the way to Washington, D.C.

Whether  a national party committee opts to invest money in a race is a direct reflection of its confidence in a candidate. The information is usually stored on Excel sheets. National operatives are able to confidently rattle off on cue the amount of money each side is spending.

"It's definitely part of their value - having accurate information that is quickly accessible," one national GOP strategist said.

The most dramatic information that a media buyer can obtain is when a campaign committee has completely canceled ad reservations in support of a candidate, also known as "triage." The word triage means more than a decline in ads. The metaphor relates to a flooded emergency room, where doctors must decide which patients can be saved and which ones can't.

But ad tracking is not an exact science. Media buyers place a premium on never being wrong, but this is human intelligence.

Amid all of this information gathering and sharing, not every sales representative is game. The national GOP strategist went so far as to call some television stations "ornery." But it takes just one person in a media market of four or five stations to flag a change in the opponent's ad buy.

"There's enormous pressure for us to be right, but at the same time you have to weigh that against being fast," the Republican media buyer said.

Most of the media buyers interviewed for this story seemed surprised there was any interest in their profession.

Sometimes they work for large companies that monitor races across the country. Others operate regionally. And some media consultants do their own media buying in-house.

They typically come from an advertising or political background and then learn the other side along the way. Republican or Democrat, they usually described their lives as borderline nerdy.

But in politics, there is always a certain glamour to being the first to know anything.

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