As we approach election season, it’s important that billboard owners remember the old adage “never discuss sex, religion or politics” because it can be bad for your sign business. Political billboards can often lead to complications you had not anticipated, such as happened to this sign owner. So what are the rules on political advertisements?
Just say “no” if that’s an option
There’s no law that I’m aware of that says you have to accept political ads on your billboard. In many cases, the best thing you can do when approached is just to say “I don’t accept political ads”. I’m a firm believer in that policy after suffering many disasters from installing ads on signs that caused an uproar from property owners or neighbors. Remember that most people have extremely strong opinions on politics and seemingly calm people can go beserk if the candidate is not aligned with their interests.
If you need to rent the ad space, at least make sure that you have the ability to approve the ad
Sometimes – despite not really wanting to rent to a political ad – you simply need the money and can’t go on with a vacant sign. If that’s the case, at least put in your contract the ability to refuse any advertising message that you find offensive. You hope that political ads will simply be a name and a photo, but instead they are often an obnoxious message designed to hurt their opponent. The last thing you need is a billboard that causes a protest or alienates you from your other advertisers or property owners.
Alert the property owner and get their approval
Even if you’re not offended by the ad, you still need to make sure that your landowner shares your ambivalence. One of the worst catastrophes you can get into is if you place an ad on a billboard located on a piece of property that you rent and that the property owner holds your destiny in their hands and you offend them every time they see the ad. There’s no way that any political ad is worth losing the support of your property owner and, as a result, you lose your ability some day to renew your lease.
Remember that these ads are short term and may not be worth the risk
Here’s a reality check: political ads are short-term in nature. That is a big deflator of really wanting to go out on a limb for them. Often the political advertiser will only want to sign a lease for a few months, rather than the one-year term that good advertisers do. While it might be worthwhile to stretch to get a McDonalds ad that goes on for decades, do you really want to put this much risk and effort into a couple of months?
And make sure you get paid
If a politician has little funding – or thinks they’re going to lose – they are well-known to walk off and abandon their bill paying. Collecting money from political campaigns is tough work as you have nothing to threaten them with; there’s no regular business to drop by and seek payment nor do they care about ever being able to rent from you again. A huge amount of political advertising goes unpaid and that’s a bad situation. You may want to require that all political ads pay in full and in advance.
Political ads are not for everyone. Think about the risks before you accept the concept of putting political ads on your signs. Make sure you mitigate those risks if you go forward. Elections are short-term but the damage it can do to your business might last much longer.