A One Stop Shop to Reach Conservatives

In the online battle for the hearts and minds of conservative Republicans leading up to this year’s elections, Salem Web Network could see a lot of action. Through its acquisition last week of conservative news, commentary and community site Townhall.com, Salem Communications, a Christian radio broadcaster and publisher of online and print media, aims to create a new online forum for integrating its talk radio content with its faith-based Web content and communities.

“We’ll be actively working with advertisers who want to reach the conservatives motivated in politics and the issues of our time,” commented Salem Director of Online Strategy Chuck DeFeo. According to DeFeo, Salem network sites, including Townhall.com, garner 5 million unique visitors per month on average.

“The potential for this is tremendous,” concluded Jonah Seiger, founding partner of political consulting firm Connections Media. He agreed that the network could become a multimedia powerhouse because of its ability to reach conservatives and evangelicals through a variety of touch-points, from radio to print to the Web. Indeed, DeFeo, who served as e-campaign manager for the Bush/Cheney ’04 presidential campaign, could also be a force in driving right-leaning groups and candidates to buy ads on the expanding network. Salem “has a secret weapon: Chuck DeFeo,” added Seiger. Far from being a secret, DeFeo has significant experience and a good reputation in the political world with the right and left.

Aside from Townhall.com, Salem’s Web network includes spiritual content and community portal Crosswalk.com, Christian audio and video streaming site OnePlace.com, streaming Christian music site Today’sChristianMusic, and Christian music magazine site CCMMagazine.com. Salem’s radio network of 34 conservative news talk radio stations features hosts such as Bill Bennett and Hugh Hewitt. Print offerings include CCM Magazine, which covers the contemporary Christian music industry.

“They’re [Salem is] taking on a recognizable brand that needed to be re-energized,” said Becki Donatelli, chairman of Republican political consulting outfit Campaign Solutions. Noted Donatelli, “Nearly every conservative Republican candidate in the country is a fit for [Townhall]” because it attracts a broad politically conservative audience.

Republican organization Volunteer Political Action Committee is currently running Blogads placements on HughHewitt.com, the site affiliated with the Salem radio host, to promote Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s podcasts. The Senator is chairman of the PAC. Leading up to the 2004 presidential election, the Republican National Committee ran two campaigns on Crosswalk.com to attract volunteers and raise funds. DeFeo said the broadened Salem network ad offerings will also appeal to advertisers trying to reach “the investor class.”

“I think Townhall is important in that it is different than what we’re doing now on the religious Web site[s],” explained Chad Nykamp, director of marketing for Salem Web Network, suggesting that Townhall could reach “a different class of advertisers, maybe advertisers that aren’t comfortable targeting a religious audience specifically but will be more comfortable with a broader secular audience.”

Seiger expected that he might buy space on the network for a corporate public affairs client of his whose campaign message would resonate well with a conservative audience. “It is a perfect environment for one of our clients….[because of] the makeup of the audience, the channels that the property presents.”

Townhall got its start 15 years ago as a private online bulletin board run by National Review magazine and launched on the Web in ’95. It’s since become a one-stop place for news and conservative commentary columns. The site, which has content partnerships with over 100 organizations, also encourages its users to take action on hot political issues and provides contact information for Congressional representatives searchable by ZIP code. Current Townhall advertisers include Conservative Match and Americans for the Arts.

The site has also launched an online tool set called TownSquare “to build a large, strong, and interconnected conservative force.” The Meetup-inspired platform lets users organize groups and events, and in the future may offer online activist training and word-of-mouth-style “relay teams.”

Before snapping up Townhall, Salem had been developing a new site in order to integrate its conservative talk radio content with its Web offerings. Townhall provides the company with a site and brand that’s tailor-made for the initiative. The firm plans on launching a new integrated site under the Townhall brand “in a couple months,” said DeFeo. Though he would not provide details, DeFeo noted that Salem “will be actively reaching out to the blog community and working to encourage folks to create their own blogs in the conservative space.”

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