Billboard Monthly

April, 1st 2015

Memo From Frank

I have always hated April Fools’ Day, which is today. I am not a fan of practical jokes, and this is the day that most people reserve for such pranks. So what is April Fools’ Day anyway? The origins date back to 1392, in which the day is a celebration of pulling hoaxes on others. Does that make me a poor sport or without a sense of humor? Not at all. I just don’t like the continual concern all day that there is the possibility at any second of someone pulling a prank. I’m not into suspense. And that’s probably why I like the billboard business. I have always been attracted to the simple business model and the lack of competition. When I build a billboard, I always know how the movie will end. If I want a good laugh, I can watch a comedy sketch on Youtube.

How Hard Is It To Cross Over The State Line?

A standard billboard territory is around 4 to 5 hours in all directions from your home. This is a pretty large footprint. In most markets, your territory will include more than one state. Where I am, in Missouri, it includes six. So how hard is it to do business in more than one state?

Understanding the state’s laws on outdoor advertising

Although the Highway Beautification Act is a federal law, it allows for customization by each state. The requirement is that no state can have a standing ordinance that is less tough than the federal guidelines, but that each state can restrict billboards to a higher level if they so choose. As a result, some states now have tighter spacing and zoning requirements – particularly in the area known as “unzoned commercial” designation. You simply have to become well versed on the state ordinance as a part of entering a new state. That’s not too hard, as you can simply get a copy of the state’s handbook on outdoor advertising as your guide.

Getting licensed

Before you can obtain your first billboard permit in any state, you have to obtain that state’s outdoor advertising license. In most states, that’s the easiest thing in the world. You fill out one sheet of paper, send in a small check, and you’re licensed. In other states, it can be a bit more complicated, but I’m unaware of any state that requires a test or has a really high bar to entry. That being said, however, you need to give yourself plenty of time to obtain it, as the turnaround time can be months.

Understanding real estate laws in that state

Most state share the same essential real estate laws. But there may be fine-tuning needed in some states. Louisiana, for example, has its own unique laws based on its French heritage. There is a name for Louisiana’s law structure and it’s called “Napoleonic Law”. Other states may require cash to change hands to secure the ground lease. Others may have provisions that preclude certain lease items, or require additional ones. You should study the state requirements before sending out your first ground lease.

Understanding banking limitations

If you have a successful relationship with a lender in one state, it does not mean that they will do lending in another state. While some banks are national or regional, others will stop short at the state border. Ask your existing bank if they will make loans in other states and, if not, you’ll need to start making bank contacts in the new state immediately. That also means that you’ll need to learn the requirements of the new bank, such as required amounts down, interest rates, whether to record leases, etc.

Prioritizing which direction to go

As you expand your territory beyond state borders, you will need to prioritize where to devote your time. Every territory has the hot and cold spots. I would suggest you convert your 4 to 5 hour radius into four quadrants, and then figure out which has the most economic vitality and work that quadrant first. You can get a handle on economic strength through such exercises as mapping out all Walmart and McDonalds locations – the more of these there are, the more economic growth and spending that is going on. A part of success in billboards is being able to rent the ad space, and to do so you need a large number of willing advertisers and not a ghost town.


A part of building a successful billboard company is to manage a large territory. Crossing state lines is not really that scary if you take the correct preparation and mindset with you. Don’t hold back on an attractive market just because it is over the border. You can successfully cross into a bordering state with very little complication.

When Is A Billboard Too Tall?

tall billboard

Choosing the correct height for a billboard is an art form. You do not learn this in high school or college – and many billboard company owners still don’t understand it. But picking the correct height is a key to making that billboard all that it can be – and renting for the highest price.

At least 500’ of clear read

The first billboard rule of thumb is that you should be able to read a billboard for 500’. In other words, you should be able to read that billboard message while your car travels for about 500’ or, based on a speed limit of 55 mph, about 6 seconds. Any less than this is considered too “short” a read and will negatively impact what it can rent for. So you have to make the billboard visible from at least 500’ away. If your sign is too tall, it may only be visible for a shorter period of time before it disappears above your windshield.

But you have to be above the obstructions

A billboard that is hidden behind trees or other obstructions is of no purpose. So you have no choice but to select a height that gets your sign above the other distractions and blockages such as trees, buildings, flags, signs, etc. And you better allow for future growth in vegetation, as the 20’ tall tree of today may be the 30’ tall tree of tomorrow.

But the ad has to be in your windshield at a distance you can actually read it

Some advocates of tall signs are impressed that you can see the sign from miles away. But the problem is: can you read it? Most billboard copy is between 18” and 36” in character height. That means that you certainly may see that there is writing on a sign a mile away, but you will not be able to read it until you are typically within 1,000’ or less. If your sign disappears out of the top of the readers windshield before they can see what the sign says, then what’s the point of the sign?


You have to engineer the correct height for any billboard, based on the obstructions and unique approach to the sign from the road. While being too low and obstructed is a sin, so it a sign that is so tall that it cannot be read effectively. Between those two extremes lies the correct height for most billboards.

This Project Defines Thinking Big

grain silo billboard

This is an article about a billboard owned by Billboard Boot Camp veteran Bob Caldwell. Bob apparently knows no limitation when it comes to big signs. This is one of those ingenious uses of everything that makes a billboard deal great. Read the article at the link below:

Read "Silo Sprouts 2nd Life As Billboard"

New Billboards For Sale On

A Billboard Story

new yorker billboard cartoon

The Market Report

Prices Are Delayed By At Least 15 Minutes