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What Rush Limbaugh Is Not Telling You About His Advertiser Losses

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What Rush Limbaugh Is Not Telling You About His Advertiser Losses
[ Business]

The firestorm over Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” remarks aimed at Sandra Fluke has not died down. Daily tallies of fleeing advertisers are being kept. Yesterday, as Limbaugh’s program was just getting started, he took a few minutes to explain to his listener base what was going on with the much-ballyhooed exodus of advertisers from his program.

Sponsors on this program are both local and national. We deal with the national sponsors on this program. We have 600-plus stations. They sell their own commercials. We don’t have anything to do with those sponsors. We don’t get paid by those sponsors. We have no idea who those sponsors are.

Let’s make up a company, ABC Widget Company. And let’s say that ABC Widget Company says, “We are no longer going to appear on the Rush Limbaugh Show.” Well, ABC Widget Company isn’t on the Rush Limbaugh Show. What happens is, advertising agencies order advertising buys on a series of local stations from market to market to market. A controversy like this erupts. They put out a notice to the stations, “By the way, for the time being we don’t want our commercials run when Limbaugh is on.” But they are not canceling their advertising on the station. They’re just saying they don’t want it running on my program during the local affiliate’s commercial time, not ours.

We have not lost 28 national sponsors. There are not 28 advertisers who were paying us who aren’t anymore. They are local commercial buys. Many of them may not even be running in my show to begin with. The advertisers are just saying, “If they are, pull ‘em. We don’t want ‘em in there for now,” but they’re staying on the local stations. These advertisers are not abandoning EIB affiliates.

Nobody is losing money here, including us, in all this. And that is key for you to understand. They are not canceling the business on our stations. They’re just saying they don’t want their spots to appear in my show. We don’t get any revenue from ‘em anyway.

Much of what Rush said is completely accurate. He also claimed that two unnamed national-level advertisers that had bailed were asking to come back, one of them “practically begging”. Since he won’t name them, that is, of course, unverifiable. But on the whole, he correctly explained the difference between national advertisers versus regional and local ad buys.

So, where are these numbers coming from about 28 sponsors gone, or 32 sponsors gone? Do those numbers matter at all? Or, as Limbaugh said, are they “like losing a couple of french fries in the container when it’s delivered to you at the drive-thru”?

I used to be an “on-air radio personality”. Despite the cultural icons we like to revere in the DJ world, the job is not glamorous, does not pay well, and you end up seeing a lot of sausage-making in the radio world. Stick with me here while we look at the business that Limbaugh has to deal with. This is in no way about the politics or content of Limbaugh’s statements. Let’s just look at the numbers.

Basically, here’s what’s happening. Someone who objects to Rush Limbaugh’s comments decides to do something. So, they listen to his program one day and jot down all the companies that have commercials running during the program. Then, they send emails, make blog posts, start Facebook discussions, etc. about the businesses on that list. But, those businesses actually fall into three distinct categories.

Many of those commercials are for local businesses. These were sold by the individual radio stations (or station groups) themselves. Many advertisers get a spread of commercials, a package, that airs at different times of the day. Depending on the demographic that business wants to reach, they may request that their commercials mostly air at certain times of the day – morning drive, for example, or during Limbaugh’s program. Advertisers want the most bang for their buck. They want to know that their commercials are airing when the greatest number of their potential customers are listening. But, most radio stations will do some spread of commercial time throughout the day, even if there is a focus on certain time slots. An example of a local commercial is a bank, tire store, local restaurant, etc. Anything that is unique to your town or city.

Next are the regional commercials. These are for larger companies, particularly national names. Their advertising purchases are much like the local ones, just on a larger scale. Unlike the local ones, the official representatives of those companies do not know much about the details of where and when their ads are being aired. They hire an ad agency to oversee that. If the results are coming in, they don’t micromanage. They may not be aware that their commercials, and thus their name and reputation, are being put in the Limbaugh time slots. Examples of regional advertisers might include a grocery chain that is unique to the South, candidates in electoral races, credit card companies, a mattress company, Netflix, or Geico.

Then there are the companies that advertise directly with Limbaugh as official show sponsors. These people want to be associated with the Limbaugh brand. They have made a calculated decision that their customers are Limbaugh’s listeners. It may be difficult to tell who they are, as opposed to the local and regional buys. One of the easiest ways to tell is by whether or not Limbaugh himself does the voiceover for those commercials. It is not always the case, but it’s a surefire way to pin down some of the companies. But, the simplest way, though not easy, is to determine which commercials are airing in every market. Local commercials are not played outside the listening area of a given station. Regionals will vary from region to region, even if bought by national names. But, full-fledged Limbaugh show backers will be on in every single market. They come in to each station on the satellite feed with Limbaugh’s show. Once in a while, you will hear a glitch where a commercial starts, then the audio cuts to something more local. That was likely a national ad. Limbaugh does not name these, or even tell how many there are, but they are logically far fewer than the regional or local advertisers. A good example of a national sponsor is LifeLock. We know this because they have spoken up about their sponsorships themselves.

Now it’s time to let you in on a dirty little secret about radio that you find out the first day on the job. Radio stations do not exist to educate or even to entertain you. They do not exist to play new, exciting music. They do not exist to support a particular political ideology or add to any sort of cultural conversation. They exist for one reason: to sell commercials. You can screw up many other things when working as a DJ. You can talk way more than playing music. You can play long blocks of music with almost no banter. You can interrupt and talk over songs. But, never, never miss the commercials. If they could get away with just selling and playing commercials 24 hours a day, they would do it. But, no one wants to listen to sales pitches all day. They want to be entertained in some way. So, stations research and decide what kind of entertainment/programming would best attract people in their area to their radio frequency instead of the competitor’s. If the answer is “talk radio”, they do that. If the answer is “country music”, they do that. If that answer changes, they change the programming. It’s all about selling and playing commercials. Understanding that helps you to see why the loss of advertisers at any level is important, despite Limbaugh’s cavalier statements to the contrary. It helps you to understand why all those local and regional advertisers that he seems to not care about are actually far more important even than his national-level advertisers.

There are tons of companies out there who would fall all over themselves to give Rush Limbaugh their money to advertise on his program at the national level, even if he were the most reviled man on the radio. The level of “class” in those advertisers might drop, but opportunists will attach to a scandal in a heartbeat. The trouble is, the vast majority of hometown and regional advertisers won’t. And, boycotts and protests are most effective at the local and regional level.

If a person who heard what Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke got an emailed list of local advertisers whose commercials aired during the Limbaugh show, that person can pick up the phone and call each local or regional business on that list. They can tell them, “I will not be eating at your restaurant for as long as you advertise with that man. When you stop, I will come back. And, by the way, I am tweeting, emailing, and Facebook messaging every person I know to tell them the same thing. We’ll be listening tomorrow to see if you are still supporting him.”

Limbaugh may not care about that, but the restaurant owner sure does, even if he likes Limbaugh. If even a few people make that intention known, that owner will call the radio station and demand that his ads be pulled out of the Limbaugh show and spread elsewhere. He may even post a sign on his door expressing his support for Limbaugh, but he will eventually move his ads. In order to not lose that ad business, the station will quickly comply. Eventually, if enough advertisers bail on the program, the program gets replaced. No more Limbaugh in that town.

Limbaugh himself said it yesterday, “They’re just saying they don’t want their spots to appear in my show.” Exactly.

Limbaugh’s website says he has over 600 stations in his stable. Calls from individuals, especially people not even in the listening area, will have little effect on the decisions a station makes. But calls from the advertisers are treated like messages from God. Limbaugh may think say that those advertisers are like a few french fries. But, the local stations do not. There are people at those stations whose job it is to beat the pavement and sell ads. They work on commission. They build relationships with those advertisers. It is in their best interests to keep those advertisers informed about where their money is best spent. If there is a huge stench around a program, local and regional advertisers will abandon it. Stations will then eventually drop it, not on principle, but out of economic necessity. And thus, the listener base dwindles. They simply won’t have it to listen to unless they subscribe online. Then, the chain effect begins. The cost of regional ads drops due to a smaller listener base. So, ad sales people have to sell more commercials to recover the lost revenue. No one wants to support a sinkhole. Eventually, the show folds.

Limbaugh can put on a brave face and act like those national level advertisers are all he cares about. But, that’s disingenuous. Even if he never lost a single one, the local and regional markets can dry up around him. He will be a tree falling in a forest.

Yesterday, Bill Maher, of all people, tweeted his disappointment with what he called “intimidation by sponsor pullout” from Limbaugh’s show. Bill Maher’s stance on unfettered capitalism is long-established. Maybe his unfamiliarity with it is causing him to miss this: sponsor pullout is one of the edges of the capitalism sword. It is the dollar vote. People buy the things they support. They stop buying the things they don’t. It’s the free market at work.

Limbaugh’s show may well weather out this storm. He may still be here having the last laugh ten years from now. But, make no mistake, he knows that those advertisers trickling away in Small Town, USA matter. He may not tell you that, in fact he may tell you the opposite. But, that doesn’t make it so.

[Update: According to the Media Matters blog, a study of Limbaugh's program as it aired yesterday (March 7) on WABC, the network's flagship station, revealed that over half his commercial spots on that station had been pulled and replaced with free public service announcements to fill the time.]

What Rush Limbaugh Is Not Telling You About His Advertiser Losses
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  • Steve

    Quote from the article – “A good example of a national sponsor is LifeLock. We know this because they have spoken up about their sponsorships themselves.”

    I listened to Rush’s show today and heard at least 2 LifeLock commercials so what does that say about the veracity of Tuttle’s article?

  • Bill, Ohio

    Convicted drug felon, Rusty Limpballs, is a bigot.

    • Steve

      Typical lib: No facts to argue so stoop to name calling.

  • Chuck l

    WW2…you’re correct, vile comments are protected speech. Rush is’ nt going to prison or perscuted by the gov’t but we as citizens can voice our displeasure with rush and choose to exercise our freedom of speech via the power of the consumer and let the business community know that we are no longer willing to tolerate the drug addeled and insulting comments of rush l. I found his comments about Sandra fluke to be particularly offensive as I have two daughters close to her age and his comments were for all young women who practice birth control by contraception.

    • Steve

      Hey Chuck, do you expect me to pay for your daughters birth control or are you going to do it? Rush used a volitile word but the underlying question is what I just asked you. If you expect me to pay for their birth control then I expect you to pay for my daughters blood pressure meds.

  • Ramon Osorio

    We need to do the opposite. Let’s find out who the sponsors who pulled out are and call them and tell them that we are not going back to their business until they returned to air with Rush, Don’t forget to tell them that we are going to twitter and facebook the same. If they are smart they will listen to us since most of the left are in food stamps and unemployment benefits anyway.

    • DeVan

      Already been done. Carbonite stock, for one, crashed! Read Jeffrey Lord’s articles on Rush’s show at spectator.org for the truth.

  • http://yahoo john tucher

    I just heard that bill maher called sarah palin a c–t! he also just gave $1 million to obama’s pac! no wonder obama ignored the question about a double standard when a reporter asked him about it tuesday.

  • Steve

    The saddest part of this whole discussion is that no one is talking about what started the hearing at which Fluke was not allowed to speak. The hearing was to discuss if the Executive Branch has the Constitutional authority to force religious organizations (in this case the focus has been on the Catholic church) to provide a service that violates the basic beliefs of the organizationn. This issue has been totally ignored by the media in an attempt to demonize Rush.

  • A Boswell

    What do I think? Looks like there are as many opinions as there are people. Some well thought out, others not so. Some sound like kids in the back seat (remember – he/she hit me first)? Debate? Intelligent conversation? Not here. Won’t be visiting this site again. (And you back seaters can post your snarky remark now.)

  • Scott

    Let’s not lose site of the real issue: This Fluke was invited to a press conference to plead with her liberal democrat friends in congress and the democrat media that individual citizens relinquish the freedom to obtain their own contraceptives. Instead she advocated that this freedom be turned over to the government. Why would anyone want to give up yet another freedom to the government, which in turn can then mandate what forms of contraception each individual must use, who will be allowed to use it, etc. etc. Freedom is sacred…don’t just be willing to give it up so easily. This is just one more example that further demonstrates that liberalism is a mental disorder. P. S. Rush NEVER called Ms. Fluke a “Slut”. His exact words were, “If she’s (Ms. Fluke) having so much sex that she can’t afford the contraception, what does that make her, a slut, right? So, unless she truly is having a lot of sex, Rush actually said that she’s NOT a slut. It may not have been the best anology to use, but when one truly reads what he said, and dissects it’s actual meaning, he clearly did not call her a slut.

    • DeVan

      And the real real issue is Obama caught Hell from America for trying to violate the 1st Amendment right to freedom of religion. This whole Fluke/contraceptive thing was just a diversion. Sadly, for now, it has worked. But Oreilly did a good job tonight of digging into this and trying to find out who is behind Fluke. She is not managed by a PR firm, the chief editor for which is non other than Anita Dunn….Stay tuned as this is going to turn back on Obummer and it won’t be pretty…

      • DeVan

        Should say “now managed” by; and “none other than”

  • Scott Arthur

    There is a new invention out there called SPELLL CHECK. Half of you should check it out.

    • DeVan

      There is also something called SPAM. YOU should check it out.

  • Peter Thompson

    That’s good because nobody would want to hear any profane liberal commenting on how Rush got “Fluked” out of his radio show. Very informative by Rush to explain that.

  • joseph

    The media is not liberal or biased huh? I htink the hook line and sinker you are digesting ia affecting your brain. Or maybe it’s easy to belive when it’s your only source. Good luck and God bless you. No offence.

  • http://webpronews.com Dianna Topper

    I don’t like Rush Limbaugh at all. I don’t care that he expresses his opinion. I care that he chooses to be deliberately crude. I care that he chooses to misrepresent what others say so that he’ll have a topic about which to rant. I care that he chooses to publicly rake over the coals a young woman, not a political candidate, who has the temerity to have an opinion of which he does not approve. I care that he is simple-minded enough to rant, yet again, about someone writing something about him he calls “snarky and bitchy.” Did he think he had the corner on that?

  • SCE2AUX

    Rush’s fans are generally productive citizens.
    His enemies are generally freeloading parasites.

    Whose complaints would you pay more attention to?

  • Ken

    I LOVE THIS GUY – He stands up for what he believes in, no matter what. EVEN IF IT COSTS HIM MONEY! Not many people left like him in the media anywhere. Imagine a politician trying that, he would be laughed out of the country by his peers before the stock market closed, HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

  • Larry Hughes

    Let repeat something I read on a local church message board. I applys to many of the religious right.
    “BIGOTRY AND HATRED, CLOAKED IN RELIGION, IS STILL BIGOTRY AND HATRED.”

  • http://boycottrushlimbaughssponsors.com pk

    Some – like forbes – have doubts this effort will continue as long as it needs to in order to make a difference.
    And it is – believe me, most of us get that it has to be done at the local level as much as the national level … so any of you that are listening to a local station to track their advertising – contact us here
    .http://stopthewaronwomen.wordpress.com/
    We have a network we share list with, just login and leave a comment (comments are rarely posted) and share your list. We will be developing a local station data base – a list of all local stations playing his show and who advertises locally.

    Iif you are willing and able to help with this compilation – please let us know. (dittoheads don’t bother, those comments just get deleted because like most of us, we don’t feed trolls.)
    This way anyone, anywhere can know who to contact to encourage boycotts of local advertisers whose ads play on those stations. Clear Channel? We get it. Clearly though, Rush doesn’t because he continues to insult and degrade women.

  • Michael M

    Hehehe. It’s about time. I’ve listened to Limbaugh off and on since the 80′s. He is and always has been a mouthpiece for the GOP. Disinformation, misinformation, hate and flat out lies is his brand. He’s a cancer that needs to be eradicated. The animal is wounded. It’s time to finish the job.

  • Mz D

    I think Rush is a mouth piece for the republicans he is paid off by them to do their dirty work and thats why the top Repubs condone in his hatred, racism ignorance and down right rudeness. Its okay of freedom of speech but when you are in the public eye, you dont cross the line. Send his azz to the cable station. Like they did the one white guy who talked about Rutgers girls basketball team so ignorantly!!

  • Tardacus

    This isn`t going to blow over and just fade away like all the other times rush has said something offensive.
    I won`t get into a long post about why this is different and list all the detailed reasons.
    One thing you can be sure of though is that all those housewives that rush pissed off have a lot of free time at home everyday and they aren`t going to forgive and forget easily. a lot of them are going to be using that free time everyday to call, e-mail and generally nag every local and national sponsor who dares to be so bold as to advertise on Rush`s show.
    In just the last week 33,000 pissed off PMS`ing women got together on a facebook page dedicated to boycotting rush`s sponsors, and that 33,000 keeps growing everyday.
    They are on a crusade, they aren`t going to give up, they finally found something meaningful to do to fill all those empty hours of sitting around the house all day.
    While you`re in your car on the way to work listening to Rush on the radio all those women are at home and trolling the social media websites recruiting friends to help them nag rush`s sponsors. While you`re at work listening to rush on the radio, all those women are recruiting friends to help them nag rush`s sponsors.
    while you`re in your car on your way home from work listening to rush on the radio, all those women are recruiting friends to help them nag rush`s sponsors. The next day when you`re in your car driving to work and listening to….well you get the point.

    Do you think they are going to get bored and just go away and do something else? what else do they have to do that is more important to them? the laundry? washing dishes? cleaning the house?
    women make 85% of all household purchasing decisions,do you think they are going to buy that new bed from one of rush`s sponsors or from someone else?

    The purchasing power of rush`s couple of million listeners is nothing.
    Rush really stepped in it this time, this isn`t going away anytime soon.

  • Callie

    It’s a double edged sword. Rush listeners … let the sponsors who pulled out know that they wouldn’t be using their services any longer. I know because I’m one of them … I cancelled one account and let the other know I wouldn’t be placing orders with them any longer.

  • Michael M

    Callie, your scorched earth policy is typical with Republic0ns….bad news is good news here and with the economy in general. Another reason why you’ll lose in November.

  • mahogma

    Viagra does little to help someone suffering from long term oxycontin addiction.

  • larry

    I think this to actually be a very good, well balanced story. He is spot on as to advertising and radio. Sounds to me like he has been in the business

  • 7761

    Can’t understand why no one is concerned about Bill Mahr’s sponsors ??/