Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 57

What Should Be Your Sign’s Corporate Uniform?

Virtually every billboard company in America uses a consistent color for the structure, skirting and shield. So how do you choose these? That’s the focus of this Billboard Mastery podcast.

Episode 57: What Should Be Your Sign’s Corporate Uniform? Transcript

0:00:33.8 Frank Rolfe: Most businesses like uniforms, and billboards are no different. This is Frank Rolfe of the Billboard Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk about your official uniform out there, but not the one you might wear, but what your signs look like. So typically on any sign, there's three parts to the corporate uniform. There's the color of the structure, there's a color of the skirting or apron, and there's a color of the shield. So let's start off with the big one, and that's the color of the structure.

0:01:04.1 Frank Rolfe: There have been many thoughts over the years on what the appropriate color was for a sign structure, and there are basically two camps on this. There's one group that thinks that the sign structure should blend into the environment so as to make the structure not nearly as pronounced as the advertisement, and also to make those on the ground who look at the sign a little happier, so it doesn't stand out like a sore thumb. But then on the other camp, you've got those who think the sign should stand out like a sore thumb because that makes you look more towards the sign to read the ad.

0:01:37.1 Frank Rolfe: So in the one group, you have those who choose colors that are typically in the earth tones, greens and browns. And in the other, you have those who go up with wild colors like bright pink or white or bright red. Now, which is correct? I don't really know. I've always thought the key ingredient on the billboard was to minimize the disruption aesthetically on the ground, because the better you look in the ground, the less likely are to have the sign removed.

0:02:08.8 Frank Rolfe: I've always thought that what you should try and do with any sign is to make it blend in, even if you have to customize the sign to match its surroundings. And I was an early pioneer of doing such things as covering signs in things like stucco, brick. I was envious of someone who once covered it in Mylar, reflective Mylar, so that you didn't even see the sign pole. It reflected the environment around it. But that's what I thought led to longevity of the sign.

0:02:39.1 Frank Rolfe: And in fact, if you look at most of your large players out there, they have generally adopted this. Obviously, Lamar, and their signs are not really to my taste, but their signs have always been kind of brown or white, white [0:02:54.0] ____ coal, which was a rusted colored structure, which again, blended into the environment. And even Foster & Kleiser traditionally would try and make their signs some kind of off-green. But at the same time, there are those other operators out there who have always favored the sign colors that you don't find in nature, although I don't think any of those ever grew to the stature of those who followed the earth tones. So in my personal opinion, the key is to make that sign look as less obnoxious as you humanly can.

0:03:25.2 Frank Rolfe: Then you have your apron or your skirting. That's the horizontal piece that hides the infrastructure from the catwalk up to the bottom of the advertising face. Now, what color do you make that? Well, again, there's different schools of thought. Here, you have a much larger palette 'cause no one from the ground sees the skirting unless they look straight up. So here you can kinda go with whatever color you like, and there's many schools of thought. White is very popular. Gray is very popular. Brown is very popular. But it can really be any color you choose.

0:04:04.8 Frank Rolfe: However, I would tell you this, when it comes to the apron or the skirting, the key item is you don't want it to clash with the advertisement itself. So I don't think using a really strange color like magenta would be a really smart idea because most of your signs are going to clash with that color palette. So again, I would keep it to something that's tasteful and benign and doesn't contrast with the ad or take away from it. I've never heard an advertiser ever complain about a skirting being too uniform with the environment. I can fully imagine an advertiser complaining that the skirting doesn't in any way match with their advertisement, and therefore takes away some of its attention.

0:04:52.7 Frank Rolfe: Finally, you have the shield. Now, the shield is your nameplate. It doesn't really serve any purpose other than to mark your territory and say, "Hey, this is my sign." And once again, there's anything, any number of items you can use on your shield. However, when it comes to your shield, you're probably gonna wanna use good common sense regarding contrast. The shield is not that large, and the letters are not that large, and you won't even be able to read it unless it has a good contrast.

0:05:20.9 Frank Rolfe: And we all know that the best contrast groups based on color analysis are white and black, yellow and black, red and white, yellow and red, and then you fall back a couple of notches down to such things as white and blue, and yellow and blue, and white and green, and yellow and green. And that's probably why most of the shields in America all are gonna be found in those first four, black and white, black and yellow, red and white, and red and yellow. In fact, that pretty much covers all of your major players in the industry fall into those groups.

0:06:02.6 Frank Rolfe: My shield always was red and white. Why? Because not only did it have high contrast, but additionally, it's a lot less expensive to build the shield because traditionally, your shield is made out of piece of aluminum that's already painted in a color, and most of it comes in white. So when you have a color like white lettering on a black background or white lettering on a red background, or the reverse, red on the white or black on the white, you don't have to do two colors. They simply silk screen that color on top of that aluminum.

0:06:38.5 Frank Rolfe: Also, I just found it was more tasteful. When you start getting into the yellow family, the problem with me is that's not just normally something that I see in a corporate basis nor is it what I saw from my peers. I always modeled myself after Foster & Kleiser, which later became Clear Channel. I always thought they had the most tasteful, the most corporate looking stuff. Their colors, of course, were black and white.

0:07:05.2 Frank Rolfe: So I [0:07:05.2] ____ minted that a little with red because I also admired 3M, which was another large player at that time, and I love the way their stuff looks so uniform and so corporate. So I adopted a little of each. I went with red and white. But again, you can go with any color that works for you because no one can see it from the ground, they can only see it from the car driving down the road, but again, I want a uniform that doesn't take away from my advertisers. I want something that looks professional and big company. And that's what anyone striving to come up with that first corporate uniform on their very first sign should be thinking of.

0:07:44.6 Frank Rolfe: You wanna look at where you wanna be long-term. You're never gonna wanna go back and change those signs. So once you make a choice, you're stuck with it for life. And I will tell you this, since it is such a big decision, and since you are stuck with it for life, make sure to put enough effort in to make the right selection, and the best way to do that is simply to mock it up. Go ahead and make, print out on a color printer, a typical advertisement and then your skirting choice and your shield choice and your structure choice. Tape it on a wall and then put up, say your top three or top four versions that you like the most. Tape them on the wall and just hang out with them for a while, walk towards them like you're driving towards them in a car, stare at them, come back in the room later, look at them again.

0:08:33.4 Frank Rolfe: At one point, one will hit you and you'll say, "Yeah, that's the look, that's what I wanna be like," and that's the one you're gonna wanna stick with. And then you've made a good selection. This is Frank Rolfe, hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.