Billboard Monthly

July, 1st 2014

Memo From Frank

The first half of the year is over and, if you’re not on-track with your goals, it’s time to get moving on the second half. Webster’s defines a goal as “the final purpose or aim, the end to which a design tends, or which a person aims to reach or attain”. I have found that one of the most effective ways of setting goals is to “work backwards”. I like to think about my perfect scenario of what I want to have happen, and then make a list of what the logical steps would be to make that occur. Then I can track if I have completed those steps, to see how close or far I am from hitting my goal. This is really no different than entering your destination in a GPS and then having it tell you what you need to do to get there. I have these goal “roadmaps” for both business and personal goals, and I follow them every day. So if you have not set some goals, do it today. And then track how you’re doing. The second half of the year is always a time of rebirth for getting what you want out of life.

Why Billboard Companies Always Outsmart City Hall

Dallas has been in discussions recently to figure out how to get out of the embarrassing mess it made of a sign ordinance alteration that allowed 100 new digital signs to be installed. This latest blunder is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the failure of city halls to ever get the better of billboard companies. But why does city hall always lose in these dealings?

It goes all the back to Ladybird Johnson and the Highway Beautification Act

The government does not seem to realize that they lose no matter what they do. Ladybird Johnson wanted to get rid of billboards, so she passed a Federal Law restricting them. The net effect, of course, was that the value of billboards skyrocketed, since the more they are restricted, the more valuable they become. This has been a constant in all billboard regulations, the billboard companies win no matter what happens, as the greater scarcity equals higher ad dollars and sign values.

Billboards have legal protections such as “free speech” that are hard to battle

The only way that city hall can actually hurt billboard companies would be to mandate their removal. But they can’t do this due to property rights and other laws such as “freedom of speech”. So city hall is unable to wield any significant weapon, and never makes a dent in profits or operations. In cases in which city hall has bent the rules, it always seems to lose in court and drops its requirements. The outdoor advertising lobby, the OAAA, has been around for almost 100 years, and is still heavily funded and aggressive. There has been no significant law change that is damaging to billboard owners in decades.

City administrators have poor business judgment

Is there anybody worse at making decisions that city hall? Case in point, the Dallas LED mess. Dallas billboard owners wanted to put up new LED billboards. The city agreed to allow 50 LED structures to be built, as long as there were three signs taken down for every new one that went up. They never bothered to specify what those three that came down were supposed to be like or where they were to come from. So the Dallas companies basically tore down the old, small signs in the undesirable areas of town – many that they were going to remove anyway – and used those points to build brand new, large LED signs in the good parts of town. Even a ten year old could see the flaws in the Dallas strategy. But city hall administrators apparently don’t listen to enough ten year olds, because they went ahead with it anyway.

Billboard owners are clever

Billboard owners are a crafty group. They always seem to know how to take advantage of the situation at hand. One reason may be that they are not afraid to hire good lawyers. Another is that they make a living from staying free of issues such as blockage and development and being “poached” by other billboard companies. Billboard owners are like cats, always able to sense danger and run away at just the right moment, or bait the mouse to stick its neck out before going in for the kill. When you put city hall head-to-head with billboard owners, it’s a given that the billboard owners are going to win.

The U.S. court system is a joke, and billboard companies know how to manipulate the system

There was a billboard owner in Dallas who built a completely illegal billboard. Didn’t apply for a permit. Didn’t even try to hide what he was doing. He just built it. It took the city and state about six months before they even noticed it was there. When they discovered it, they told him to take it down. He refused, claiming it was a violation of free speech. So they sued him. And he sued them right back. It took a few years to go to court. He lost. He filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. It took more years. They won again. But he still refused to take it down. So they made him a deal. Rather than rack up more court costs and attorneys’ fees, they would give him five years to make back his investment, if he would agree to take it down after five years. He agreed. Five years passed. When the time came, he once again refused to take it down. It went back to court. He appealed. It went to the Supreme Court. He lost. He eventually, after exhausting all of his legal ploys, removed the sign. The illegal sign lasted for fifteen years. Everyone in the U.S. knows that our court system is a joke. If you know how to play the game, you can get away with murder (literally). Billboard companies know better how to use the system than almost any other group.


People and groups, such as Scenic America, have complained for years that billboard companies get the best of city hall in every encounter. And they are absolutely right. The record of billboard owners vs. city hall is extremely one-sided. Billboard owners always win. Partly it’s because city hall is just plain bad at trying to be in command. And mostly it’s because billboard owners know all the tricks to have an unfair advantage.

My Interview With Steve Balaban

Of all the people who have ever read my book, course, or gone to Boot Camp, the most successful is Steve Balaban from Canada. Steve built hundreds of billboards once he got going, all north of the border in Canada. If you want to hear his amazing story – and get some lessons learned for your own story – then listen to this interview.

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