There I was, minding my own business trying to keep a bunch of billboards rented when Texas was hit by the 1988 Savings and Loan Crisis and the resulting depression. Billboard rents fell 50% in just one year, while the Texas economy was wiped out with a collapse of oil and real estate values. But I had to keep the signs occupied to pay my bank loans, and failure was not an option. In desperation I configured some new ways to make my billboards affordable for advertisers. In many ways, it’s similar to the Covid-19 crisis, only there were no programs to ease the burden like the Cares Act back then.
One idea I had was to split the advertisement into two or three pieces, allowing advertisers to reach their audience at half or a third the normal rate. Kind of like Uber brought ride-sharing, I was trying to create ad-sharing. And I learned a lot from this concept. First of all, these “combination” ads work best when you limit it to no more than three advertisers at one time (I once did 20 merchants on one sign and it was a catastrophe). Another thing I learned is that they all have to share a common exit. That allows you to have one big exit line at the bottom, and not three different ones which would be impossible to read.
Another concept that rarely gets attention is the idea of utilizing manufacturer programs to cut the ad rate to the advertiser by as much as 50%. Here’s how it works. Let’s say your advertiser is a western wear store that sells cowboy boots. Justin boots agrees to pay 50% of the sign cost if there’s a big picture of a Justin boot and the logo. So now your advertiser is able to get a big ad at 50% off for their store. This has been a technique for newspaper advertising for decades, but many people don’t know that you can do the same thing with billboards.
I like both of the options above better, but this is a concept born of desperation that is still better than a vacant sign. Instead of getting money for a sign, you trade for whatever the good or service is of the advertiser. For example, I once traded a billboard for $1,000 per month of food. I ate every meal there, held every party there, gave gift certificates away to friends. I sure ate well during that period. And there are often barter options all around you, from cars to apartments to auto repair. The key is to find something that is of use to you and then focus on those advertisers.
Tough times lead to creativity. These three concepts will help get your creative juices flowing and get advertisers up on any vacant billboard. So get creative and push the envelope and good things will happen.