As Beltway Pubs Broaden Reach Online, Advertisers Follow

As Capitol Hill readies for eco-politico Al Gore to testify at congressional hearings March 21, The Alaska Wilderness League launched ads yesterday on The Politico to promote its Climate Crisis Action Day event to be held in D.C. the day before the ex-VP’s visit. The group hopes to raise awareness about the event among beltway insiders as well as environmental activists around the country. Indeed, now that they’re online, publications once reaching a select few Washington decision makers are being read by politically-minded citizens, too.

The AWL aims to inspire citizens to lobby their congressional representatives in support of legislation protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to buying ads on blogs including the DCist and environmental news site Grist, the organization has placed ads on The Politico’s Web site and D.C. print publications including Roll Call and The Washington Post Company’s free daily, Express. The ads will run until March 20.

“There are only a couple of key publications that you need to be hitting,” said AWL Communications Director Becky Wynne, noting the organization is exploring online advertising “to reach out to a broader audience.”

Perhaps more so than its insider-aimed competitors, the recently launched Politico is straddling the line between D.C. and a national audience engaged in what Associate Publisher Ken Day calls “fantasy politics.” Still, even established beltway publications like The Hill and Roll Call, once strictly ready by Washington politicos, are now frequented by political junkies from across the country.

“It’s the equivalent of their national sports pages,” said Dan Solomon, CEO of Mindshare Interactive Campaigns, a consulting firm that has worked with clients such as The Business Software Alliance and Anheuser-Busch on efforts aimed at beltway insiders and political junkies. Most advertisers buy on beltway-focused Web sites because they’re looking to influence D.C. decision makers, said Solomon. However, when it comes to such sites, “their outside-the-beltway influence is one of the hidden gems,” he continued.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has banners running on NationalJournal.com, The Politico and Roll Call Newspaper Online, in addition to consumer-facing sites like Edmunds.com. The auto manufacturing trade association’s campaign is intended to educate consumers as well as those on Capitol Hill about “the story of fuel economy being important to the auto industry,” Auto Alliance Director of Communications Wade Newton told ClickZ News. The group also has placements in print versions of The Hill and Roll Call and in D.C. Metro stations.

“We’re focusing in part on policy makers and staff members in Washington, but the same messages are going out to others as well,” Newton told ClickZ News. The organization is not worried about targeting unintended audiences, at least when it comes to its “Driving Innovation” campaign. “Right now, the message is so consistent,” he said, “It doesn’t take a lot of massaging the message.”

The American Association of Civil Engineers is driving traffic to its 2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure through ads on Roll Call and The Hill sites. Also at The Hill Web site, ads from the American Chemistry Council advise readers that chemistry is a $550 billion industry in the United States.

But it’s not just trade and advocacy groups using these sites. Corporations are doing it, too. GE, for instance, has placed ads on The Hill and Congressional Quarterly’s CQ.com touting its innovative windmill and desalination technologies as part of its far-flung Ecomagination branding effort.

Although firms like Bristol-Myers Squibb have bought ads in The Politico’s print version, the publication is still hoping to score ad dollars for its site from pharmaceutical, agriculture and healthcare corporations, according to Day. Publications covering congressional affairs often refer to the legislative calendar to determine which advertisers might be interested in buying ads. Agribusinesses, for example, may want to advertise when legislation on funding for ethanol is up for a vote.

Today, those ads would not only reach those casting floor votes, but people from corn country voting in presidential caucuses and primaries. “We’re doing insider news for everyone,” said Day. “It’s not just about lobbying Congress; you can lobby Joe Citizen in Keokuck, Iowa.”

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