Conservative organizations are paying millions of dollars a year in sponsorship fees to talk-radio hosts for a package of plugs on the hosts’ shows, according to a Politico report.
The Heritage Foundation, which is credited with pioneering sponsorships of this style and magnitude, reportedly pays about $2 million in sponsorship fees to “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and $1.3 to “The Sean Hannity Show.”
And Heritage has absolutely no reservations about it.
“We approach it the way anyone approaches advertising: where is our audience that wants to buy what you sell?” Genevieve Wood, Heritage’s vice president for operations and marketing. “And their audiences obviously fit that model for us. They promote conservative ideas and that’s what we do.”
What the seven-figure deals guarantee for the organization varies, but most arrangements include a specified number of instances in which the host reads from a script or a set of talking points provided by the organization. The message encourages listeners to visit the organization’s Web site or make a financial contribution.
It’s the ambiguity between traditional advertising and the show’s content that makes this type of sponsorship so valuable to organizations: It circumvents the problem of listeners “tuning out” or changing stations during commercials.
But for listeners, it’s difficult to know whether the host is doing the bidding for an organization or having an honest discussion, as was the case last month when Limbaugh spoke about Heritage’s previous support for health insurance mandates.
“The Heritage Foundation to this day says they are being impugned and misrepresented in terms of their advocacy for such a thing,” Limbaugh said, explaining that the think tank “abandoned the idea once they saw it implemented” and realized “it doesn’t work.”
Limbaugh, who has been a paid Heritage endorser since 2009, said the reversal did nothing to detract from the “profound … respect for Heritage. Heritage is the gold standard. Heritage was every bit as involved in Reaganism as Reagan was, and nothing’s changed.”
Aside from getting the message out, Heritage says it has seen an increase in the bottom line. They estimate that over the last two years, the sponsorships have brought them an additional 40,000 members each year. At the basic membership level of $25 per year, that has added $1 million in revenue.