That’s No Way To Rent A Billboard!

Driving down the highway, you would think that the standard way to rent a vacant billboard is by putting your phone number on it, just like the sign shown above. The problem is that this is perhaps the worst way to rent the advertisement space. So what are better ways to rent a billboard?

Direct mail

One of the best ways to rent a billboard is to apply a different form of advertising: direct mail. If you write up a flyer describing the location, benefits and photos of your vacant billboard and mail that out to all the homebuilders, restaurants, hotels, etc. within the proximity of the sign, you often will immediately receive a call from an advertiser saying “I’ll take it”.

Attack the advertisers at the next exit

The most powerful words on any billboard are “Exit Now” – so take advantage of that and focus on those advertisers that are located at the next exit. These are your core users; the people who would most benefit from the sign. I would reach them and say “I know this sign is perfect for you – what price would it take to get you to try it out?”. Once you score one of these advertisers, you are likely to renew them in perpetuity.

Look for combo opportunities

One way to move the advertising space is to half the cost: simply get two advertisers to “share” the ad space. You basically split the sign into two halves. But here’s a tip: try and make sure that both advertisers have a common exit line because otherwise it just gets too confusing.

Look for coop opportunities

Some advertisers are in industries that offer “coop” opportunities, in which the maker of the products sold in their stores will pay up to 50% of the ad cost if it includes their product’s logo and picture. For example, a western wear store can often receive a 50% subsidy from a boot maker like Justin Boots if it uses their logo in the corner and a picture of their boots. The most common types of businesses that offer these subsidies are western wear, auto supply and other shops that carry a large number of name brands.

Shorter-term ads

In this framework you have an advertiser who only has to make a commitment for a few months rather than the standard year. Some advertisers want to test the sign before committing to it on a long term basis. This option gives them that flexibility. I have found that a huge number of multi-year contracts begin with a simple short-term lease.

Barter opportunities

In some markets you are able to take advantage of barter exchanges (these are companies that allow you to trade vacant billboard space for a menu of other items that other businesses have placed into the exchange). For example, you could trade the vacant billboard for car repair, if you needed it, and this saves you the amount of the revenue you would have brought it if it was rented.


When all else fails, you can donate the ad space to a non-profit advertiser and write it off your taxes, allowing you to at least offset other income and save whatever your tax bracket would be. While this is the worst-case option of all those noted above, it’s still not a bad idea and certainly there are more than financial gains in taking this option.


There’s no excuse for having a vacant billboard. Yet many billboard owners think they’ve done their job if they just put their phone number up on the vacant sign. Don’t fall into that rut.

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.