Best Way To Get Free Tv Coverage Is Only Matter Of Debate

Posted: April 22, 1988

What remains of the presidential campaign caravan has arrived in Pennsylvania, leaving a trail of spent candidacies and spent money. There won't be the television advertising blizzard voters in other states have had to endure, but there will be some.

You've probably already seen a few TV spots over the last 24 hours: the Rev. Jesse Jackson, backed by country-western music, or Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis framed in the glory of his "Massachusetts Miracle."

Nothing nasty. Those ads were left behind in New York earlier in the week, and they were mostly proffered by the since-departed Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr.

Media experts agree that "paid" television time is still useful and necessary to get a message across and polish an image. But it is less important now than the "free" time available on the newscasts morning, noon and night in the state's six major television markets.

"That's what the campaign is all about at this stage of the game," said Neil Oxman, the Philadelphia political consultant who was to have handled Gore's campaign in Pennsylvania.

"Right now, the entire campaign is to get on local and national news and have the proper backdrop in terms of what's most appealing," Oxman said. ''You could have Jackson at a rally of supporters. But it doesn't even have to be anything that elaborate.

"You could have Dukakis visiting a senior citizens' center, photographed in a intimate moment with a couple of people. The point is what makes the candidate look most appealing to the voters."

Neither Jackson's nor Dukakis's camp would go into detail on its Keystone State television strategies through next Tuesday's primary election.

They will say that their television campaigns will cover all six markets,

from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and points north. They see the debate here tonight - the campaign's first one-on-one showdown between Jackson and Dukakis - as the key television event.

Dan Payne, head of the Boston-based political advertising firm handling Dukakis's commercials, says the border-to-border saturation is necessary even if Jackson is likely to win in Philadelphia.

"Even if Jackson is carrying Philadelphia - and I'm not sure that's true, but let's speculate - the suburbs are still around," he said. "(The) New Jersey (primary) is coming up. Not right away, but close enough so that the money we spend in the Philadelphia market will not be wasted."

The Dukakis campaign is not saying how much it will spend in Pennsylvania, while Jackson's staff says it will cough up roughly $200,000 for television advertising. They spent $700,000 in New York.

Jon Macks, vice president of Doak and Shrum, a Washington-based consulting firm that handled the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, said that with New York and Pennsylvania primaries back to back, with ad time so extraordinarily expensive in New York, it is not surprising the two remaining candidates will spend less here.

The nice thing about free media is that it's free. The not-so-nice thing, Macks said, is that it makes it hard for a candidate's message to be the center of attention.

"There are three factors that matter in every campaign: the messenger, the message and the process, meaning the campaign itself," Macks said.

"Early on, the paid media lets each candidate define who he is and what the message was. As the campaign rolls on, the free media assumes more control. When that happens, the message itself becomes less prominent and the messenger and the process more so."

What this means for Pennsylvania, Macks said, is that the personalities of Dukakis and Jackson and how they conduct themselves here "will obscure the message."

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