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From the Editor: What Is Election Season?

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At first, it looked like the world’s largest game of “Jeopardy!” I was flipping channels one August evening when I saw a line of people in business attire standing behind brightly lit podiums. Then I remembered it was the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign – technically, the second because one stage wasn’t sufficient for the enormous field of Republican hopefuls and the first group had engaged a few hours earlier. Great, I thought as I considered the electioneering season ahead.

Only 15 months to go.

At first, it looked like the world’s largest game of “Jeopardy!” I was flipping channels one August evening when I saw a line of people in business attire standing behind brightly lit podiums. Then I remembered it was the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign – technically, the second because one stage wasn’t sufficient for the enormous field of Republican hopefuls and the first group had engaged a few hours earlier. Great, I thought as I considered the electioneering season ahead.

Only 15 months to go.

I may have a limited appetite for American-style politics, but they are a boon to the printing industry. Yard signs, bumper stickers, banners, buttons, mugs – the ephemera that accompanies our political contests, much of it screen printed, is produced in truly staggering quantities at all levels of government. With spending for the 2016 campaign projected to double or even quadruple in the wake of the Citizens United ruling, it would seem reasonable to anticipate good times ahead.

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Unfortunately, we should temper our expectations. First, the ad windfall will be largely spent in states where the outcome is not predetermined. Most analysts believe that only seven such battleground states are in play for the presidential campaign – Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, and New Hampshire – representing just six percent of the Electoral College. These are the same states where the 2012 election was fought, and in only three instances since the turn of the century have the remaining 43 voted against type. It’s stunning to consider that the vast majority of our votes are essentially meaningless a year before we cast them, but that’s the reality. Consequently, battleground states will be where political parties concentrate the majority of their resources.

And spend, they will. If you don’t live in one of these states, as I do in Ohio, then you don’t know the pleasure of fielding a constant stream of telemarketing calls on a Sunday afternoon while a few miles away, in Kentucky and Indiana, phones are silent. Political hucksters now employ the rapidly evolving science of identifying and badgering highly targeted prospects with frightful precision.

Which brings me to the second reason that the era of unfettered political spending may not benefit our industry. Campaign managers, even more mindful of message effectiveness than the most sophisticated consumer marketers, are flocking to online and particularly social media with remarkable swiftness. The Los Angeles Times reported that more than 20 million user interactions referring to the debate were recorded on Facebook – which, not coincidentally, Facebook co-sponsored. According to the website Campaigns & Elections, digital media’s share of total campaign budgets will rise from 12 to 15 percent in the 2014 election to 20 to 25 percent next year. Specialty printers will surely fare better than most other traditional channels, but a transition of this magnitude will affect us all.

May the election cycle be kind to your business. Remember to make the season less intriguing by getting cash for any political work you do up front. Otherwise, those giant orders that look as big as elephants (or donkeys) when you land them might just put you in double jeopardy.

Read more sage reflections from the editor here.

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