How To Rent The Impossible Billboard That Nobody Wants

So you have a billboard that won’t rent. Maybe you need to change you attitude to get it sold. Here’s the deal: everyone would take it for free, right? Sure they would. Thank God you have a commodity that everyone wants.

So your real problem is not the product, it’s the pricing. The demand is there. Your job is to find the advertiser that will pay you more than any other advertiser for that sign. To accomplish this you have to conquer three objectives; 1) market the space effectively 2) prioritize the potential advertisers 3) work to close the deal and obtain the winning “bid”.

Market the Space Effectively

If you sign is vacant (which I assume it is) you need to get the following message on your sign as big as possible: “FOR RENT (XXX) XXX-XXXX” This can be in the form of a vinyl or paint job of the entire billboard face, or a 4’ x 8’ plywood panel that you stick in the lower corner nearest the street, or a panel that goes on the skirt (worst choice). Your sign is seen thousands of times per day (hopefully) and you can use the sign to rent itself.

Next, you need a mailer to go out to the businesses in your zip code that are most likely to use billboard advertising. You can buy a prepared list, or you can type it yourself from the yellow pages. In any event, get it out immediately, and hope that someone gets it that is interested and calls you.

Prioritize Potential Advertisers

Make three lists. The first list is all of the advertisers who are on another billboard in the area. These are pre-qualified prospects and you only mission here is to call each one and find out if they would want to move (at lease expiration) from the competitor’s billboard to yours.

The second list is those individuals who call you from either your “for rent” sign or the mailing. These are pre-qualified users who have an interest.

The third list is those companies that seem most likely to want to advertise on the sign, based on your guessing of who they would be. For example, if there is a restaurant down the street that is a bit off the beaten path, then it would be on this list. If there’s a homebuilder forty miles away, they would not be on this list.

Start Getting Bids and Closing the Sale

It is time to now think auctioneer. Your goal here is to get the highest price and the longest term on the lease. Call everyone on all three lists and say “how low would I have to go on this fine billboard for you to rent it from me?” I always think about a used car dealer I met that always used this sales pitch “what do I have to do to sell this car to you today?” You can also use this sales pitch, “I’ve got a billboard that I know would work for your business, and I know you’d take it if it was free. I can’t rent it for free, but what price would you give me for it?” Go in with the firm resolve that someone is going to rent this billboard in ___ days, and the high bidder wins.

Once you get a bid, immediately set up a meeting to sign it up, as long as it is within reason. Don’t wait a long period to get back to this person, or they may have changed their mind. Remember the old adage, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

Hopefully, using this technique, you will start to get bids. Take the best offer and go. Once a sign has sat empty for a while, it gets a cloud hanging over it that will scare off advertisers.

Some Final Thoughts

If you have several billboards, all of the same size, it may serve you well to find a pre-emptible advertiser, who can paint on vinyl and rotate onto empty signs while you try to find a better paying client. For example, you might sign up a law firm that has a generic ad for personal injury work. You agree to put them up on your vacancies, at your sole discretion, and in exchange they pay the cost of production for the vinyl and some reasonable amount for every 30 days that it is up on a sign. The advertiser, obviously, only pays rent when they are up on a sign.

Another option is to join a barter exchange and trade you vacant billboard space for barter “scrip”, which can be used for goods or services you need. It may sound cheesy, but these things really do work if you are a smart trader who can make use of the scrip. Just like the pre-emptible sign idea stated above, you can make up a pre-emptible barter billboard to fill in vacant spots between real advertisers.

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.