Whether you’re already sick of election ads or not, Belmonnt alumna Kati Bumgardner is probably responsible for buying the air time for at least one of them over the past few years. Bumgardner is the director of media at Fletcher Rowley, a Democratic elections firm that has produced elections commercials for around 500 clients in 45 states since 2006. In the second part on a series about political figures with Belmont ties, the Belmont Vision talked with her about her job, how it’s changed with new election rules and how she survived as a Democrat on the typically conservative Belmont campus.
Belmont Vision: So tell us a little about your job as director of media How important is that job in a campaign?
Kati Bumgardner: Well, I think it is. It’s an advertising agency, and we do television and radio commericials for Democratic candidates around the country. As director of media, I am a media buyer, which means I buy the time on TV and radio, and then I also the liasion between the buyers that we contract out with, beucase I can’t handle it all myself. We have so much work that we hire outside buyers, and I basically direct them on how to place the buy.
BV: What factors do you consider when you make buys?
KB: Basically what we have to consider is our target demographics, which is who we’re trying to talk to, which the poll tells us, and as Democrats most of the time, is older women. So we figure out what show they’re watching and then buy those shows.
BV: How complex can the process be?
KB: It’s complex. We just did an ad in Florida, which has a lot of really weird election laws. We did the candidate side of the money, and then we also did the soft dollar side as well… You can’t talk to the campaign side.
BV: How has soft money, and super PAC’s especially, affected your work?
KB: It’s affected it pretty significantly. We’ve done some work this year with super PAC’s – I can’t tell you which ones – but we have. We’ve been working with super PAC’s at this point throughout the county, at this point four states. It’s interesting because even they have a different set of rules than candidates do. The stations don’t have to take the money. They can say ‘No, I don’t want to take this issue’ or whatever. It’s been a little bit of a learning curve.
BV: Do you have also have to deal with other media besides TV? How do you deal with social media?
KB: We do a little bit of social media. I don’t place any social media buys myself. I use an outside buyer for that, and she’s really good. We just did it in the Florida race we did. So it is something that’s becoming much more of a factor. Even the campaigns are starting to recognize that, what you know that means it’s here. At this point, we probably spend the same amount of money we do on radio on online buys. That’s a good rule of thumb for most state races, when you’re not, you know, Obama. So that’ll eventually eclipse radio and maybe even cable. We’ll just do broadcast and online.
BV: Now who are some of the campaigns that you’ve worked with?
KB: Since I’ve been there in 2006, I want to say we’ve worked on 500 campaigns in about 45 states… Since I’ve been at the firm, I’ve kind of pushed them a little bit towards more progressive and liberal clients. We’re known as the blue dog firm, we do conservative, southern Democrats, and know we are moving out of the South and doing just conservative Democrats. But we do work with more progressive and liberal candidates, and I like to think that’s because I pushed them in that direction.
I will tell you, I minored in major business and majored in it for a while. Didn’t we all? And it’s not that different. Politics is show business. The more I get into it, the more I try to hang on the my beliefs and my ideals. I think I do a pretty good job at it, but sometimes we do have to stay in business.
BV: What from Belmont have you taken and still use and are applying today?
KB: Everything Vaughn May and Nathan Griffith taught me, I use on a regular basis. Just every class. People say all the time that poltical science isn’t about politics. It is, you just need to figure out how to apply it. I always told Vaughn that they need to do a political business major because that’s way more the case in real life.
BV: This is probably a silly question, but how did you handle being a Democrat at Belmont?
KB: You are looking at the Vice President of the Belmont Democrats… That was before the debate we had a school. It was just a roll off your back kind of thing. Vaughn likes to say I’m a reasonable liberal. I’m probably one of the most reasonable people you’ll ever meet, but I’m an adult. We have a bunch of different opinions. Rarely I will get into a shouting match with someone. So that’s probably why I did so well with the Belmont Democrats. But for the record, we probably just had two to four people show up to all of our meetings, including our advisor.
BV: What do you think about the state of political involvement on campus?
KB: Every time I come back and talk, they are always involved. They always know what’s going on, so I think it’s okay. I don’t know how awesome Belmont is about fostering the liberal side of the debate as well, but I’m working on that. I’m on the Youth Alumni Council, and we’re going to try to push us a little more towards that kind of thing. The thing Belmont has to recognize is that we are here, we aren’t going away. This is not something that can just shove under the rug, which they’ve tried to do for a really long time… They love the diversity of Belmont, but they don’t embraces those diversities as well as they should.