Billboard Monthly

March, 2nd 2015

Memo From Frank

When I got into the billboard business, cold weather was the most feared time of the year. The reason: “paint pop”. Before vinyl, all billboards were hand painted, and when you heat and cool a billboard panel in the sun and freezing temperatures, the paint will often expand and contract and then fall off the panel in flakes. I have seen entire 14’ x 48’ displays popped down to the raw metal of the panel. In addition, you simply cannot paint a billboard when the temperature is much below 50 degrees. However, the vinyl has permanently changed these risks. Now you can install vinyls all the way down to below freezing, and the ink on the vinyl can’t “pop” off. So vinyl is what has allowed billboard folk to relax in the winter and embrace the holidays. The next time you are cursing at the snow and how it messed up your driveway, remember what would have happened to your billboard under the same circumstances.

The Case For Revising Ordinances To Allow For Taller Billboards

Texas is considering an amendment to their state billboard ordinance that would allow for 65’ tall billboards instead of the current maximum allowable height of 42.5’. Is this good for the consumer, as well as the billboard company?

Benefits to the consumer

When you force signs to be shorter (and 42.5’ is among the nation’s lowest), it creates more visual “clutter” as the signs are all grouped into a cluster and begin to block each other. Nothing looks worse than a “wall” of signs in which they all grow into one illegible “band” on the horizon. By allowing billboards to be taller, it gives sign owners a greater ability to stay clear of each other. Additionally, taller signs allow for a vertical, as well as horizontal, separation between each other, which makes things generally more aesthetically pleasing. Also, don’t forget that the whole purpose of billboards is to educate the consumer, and there’s no way you can read signs that block each other.

Benefits to the billboard company

The benefits to the billboard company are many. First, they will be able to ensure that their ad messages are not ruined by competing trees, signs, buildings and clutter. Secondly, billboards can be built in locations that just could not get free of blockage at 42.5’. The additional proposed 17.5’ in height would allow signs to be seen that could never have been seen before. Finally, by relaxing the height requirement, it allows signs to happily coexist on the same property, with the premise sign safely underneath – and fully legible – and the non-premise sign towering above.

No real downside

This is one of those bills that nobody really cares about. The average Texan cannot possible tell a distance of 17’ from their car window. It will create more attractive aesthetics. There’s really not a single negative to this revision, regardless of whether you are a sign owner, bystander, or even a conservationist.


Hopefully, Texas will pass this ordinance revision. It’s a win/win for everyone involved.

Des Moines, Iowa Ad Campaign Is Too Realistic

A mannequin atop a billboard ad in Des Moines certainly got a lot of attention – but not what the advertiser had hoped for. The ad is for Deery of Burlington car dealership. The billboard said “from up here, I can see Deery of Burlington”. Then, on top of the sign, was a mannequin sitting there looking toward the dealership.

When the ad went up, there were suddenly numerous calls to 911 of a man who was going to commit suicide by jumping from the billboard. Even the police were fooled, and sent in a hostage negotiation team to try to talk the jumper down from the sign. But it was soon clear that the individual was not a human but simply a fiberglass figure. The advertiser immediately had the mannequin removed.

“The sheriff didn’t tell me to take it down”, said Brad Deery “but when I heard about the 911 calls, I didn’t want to be tying up a line. I’m here to sell cars, not get people hurt. We put him up there and holy smokes. I had no idea what would happen next.”

Tell that story to the next person that claims that billboards don’t work!

New Billboards For Sale On

What Is That Sign Way Off The Highway Doing There?

billboard in field

Have you ever been driving down the road and seen a billboard way, way off the highway? So far off that the billboard is visually about the size of a postage stamp? Well, that’s not an optical illusion. Those signs are a byproduct of the Highway Beautification Act – and they can be mighty profitable if you understand the loophole they demonstrate.

How the loophole occurred

When Ladybird Johnson created the Highway Beautification Act in the 1960s, the Act had to specify what it controlled, and the distance 660’ was selected as the “footprint” of frontage that would be controlled under the Act. The problem is that, if you build a billboard large enough, it can still be seen from 660’ off the highway. Apparently, nobody at the government level really understood distances or legibility.

How to take advantage of the loophole

Billboard companies have been taking advantage of this mistake for decades. Large wooden billboards exist in almost every state as a way to get around the typical zoning and spacing rules the Act created. You basically just have to find a site that is visible from the highway 660’ away, and then negotiate a ground lease and build a giant wooden sign. The biggest challenge is making the numbers work, as the large sign is expensive and yet visually is no larger than the smaller ones near the edge of the roadbed. You have to find just the right niche, where conventional signs are not allowed, to really make the numbers tie.

A real-life example or two

Probably the most successful usage of this loophole that I’m aware of was a series of signs at the south entrance to DFW Airport in Dallas. They were built by Whiteco back in the 1970s or so, and rented for huge amounts of money. By using the loophole, signs were able to be built in an area in which they were not allowed. These signs lasted for decades, until removed for land development.

And show says you have to build a sign to take advantage of the loophole? Bob from Colorado went to our Boot Camp and then put a giant advertisement on a grain elevator that was 660’ off the road. It is the largest billboard in Colorado, I believe.


People have been taking advantage of IRS loopholes for decades, in order to save on taxes. So here’s a loophole that actually can make you money, if you do it properly. But be sure to check on the laws in your state and make sure that the loophole is still there. Each state controls its sign program, and they’re not all the same.

Wanted To Attend The Billboard Boot Camp But Could Never Fit It Into Your Schedule? Well, Now It’s Coming To You In The Form Of A DVD Series

The Billboard Boot Camp is a two-day immersion event that shows you how to identify, evaluate, negotiate, perform due diligence on, select the correct size and height, build, rent ad space on, and operate billboard signs. We always hold it in St. Louis. But now you can attend at your home or office. Effective for 2015, we have converted the Boot Camp to a more convenient DVD set that is over 10 hours in length and comes with a ton of exhibits which include everything from a standard ground lease to a standard ad lease. Many a billboard career began with the Boot Camp, and now there’s no excuse not to attend. We will have this DVD set available sometime in the next month or two. Stay tuned for details.

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