Don’t Be A Billboard Pioneer

Back in the 1920’s two bicycle repairmen named Foster and Kleiser created and tested the standard billboard sizes that we all use today. But even 100 years later, occasionally some individual tries to reinvent the wheel and brings out their own line of “custom” sign sizes, which typically proves to be disappointing. So why not be a billboard “pioneer”?

Keeping up with the Jones’

Advertisers like their signs to be as big as everyone else on the highway. When all the other billboards are 14’ x 48’ (as shown in the photo above) it’s hard for the little 14’ x 14’ sign to get much attention. This desire to not be the “tiny” sign or “irregular” sign makes anything other than the standard sizes immediately unacceptable. And since signs never change (the permit only allows one specific size that was decided years ago) there’s zero likelihood that the other signs will adopt your new creation and start changing over in the years ahead.

Creative challenges

Billboard advertisers are used to standardized sizes that all of their artwork ties to. McDonald’s, for example, has a handbook for franchises that shows the recommended ad designs for 12’ x 24’, 10’ 6” x 36’ and 14’ x 48’ billboards. If you already have that template, who is going to choose to go with something different and then have to go to headquarters for approval? On top of that, McDonald’s also has standardized pre-printed vinyls that will only fit those standard sizes.

Sign fabrication issues

Virtually every sign fabricator in the U.S. has standardized plans for the normal sign sizes that are ready to go. But to draw fresh engineering for a different sign size is a daunting – and expensive – task. Among other problems is that signs are based on windload and the standard steel components are already in pre-fab form for the standard sizes. By building a custom sign you are going to invariably get higher pricing, and that will cut into your bottom line.

Nobody wants the sign to be a distraction to their ad message

Years ago a billboard owner tried to bring out a “round” sign down near Branson. They did not lease well because nobody wanted to be that “weirdo” with the round sign. And then another company tried to be different by making their signs 10’ x 67’. Once again, nobody liked them and they went empty. An advertiser wants the attention to be on their message and not how strange the sign looks.


Stick with the basics on sign size and shape. They’ve been around for 100 years. There’s been no money in coming up with pioneering new sizes. Use your creativity in finding sign locations and creating great advertisements, but don’t put any effort into trying to be renegade with your own unique billboard concept.

For more practical tips on billboards, including how to find locations to build or buy, obtain permits, build signs, rent them, and operate them for maximum efficiency, consider taking our Ultimate Outdoor Billboard Boot Camp!

Frank Rolfe started his billboard company off of his coffee table, immediately after graduating from college. Although he had no formal training on the industry, he learned as he went, and developed his own unique systems to accomplish things, such as renting advertising space. Frank was formerly the largest private owner of billboards in Dallas/Ft. Worth, as well as a major player in the Los Angeles market.