Billboard Monthly

May, 1st 2013

Memo From Frank

The Boston Marathon bombings created a great deal of anarchy and concern recently. To help battle that, and to attempt to create leads on the suspects from the bombings, the police used digital billboards. In fact, a Boston newspaper said “emergency response and law enforcement agencies say digital billboards provide a crucial public service”. Yet many of these cities currently ban or restrict the use of LED billboards. This has been a common theme in outdoor advertising for half a century. Starting with Ladybird Johnson, there has always been the concept that billboards are bad for the country and must be restricted. At the same time, these same groups have hypocritically been using these “evil” items for their own political ads and public service ads and – just weeks ago – trying to inform the public about the Boston bombings. It’s about time that everyone admitted that billboards do serve a useful purpose and are for the good of the community. Groups like Scenic America want to convince us that the negatives about billboards far outweigh the positives. The truth is that, while nobody wants to see the proliferation of billboards on the scale that they were on Route 66, for example (which the current Federal and State laws have eliminated), there is no question that they are a very important part of our communications system – from motorists looking for a hotel or meal, to the advertising of goods and services that create jobs for millions of Americans, and now even the spread of timely information in a time of crisis (think of the Amber Alert billboards, for example). The bottom line is that billboards are good for the U.S.

Subtle Sales Tips

You’re used to seeing me write about how to specifically get a ground lease signed or rent a vacant billboard face. But there are some general rules of selling – whether it’s real estate or billboard ads – that begin before you pull up or when you first meet the prospect, and these subtle strategies can mean the difference between closing the sale or not.

Make your vehicle look like a company car

Whether someone is going to sign your ground lease or rent your billboard, they will have more confidence in the transaction if they think you work for a big company. Why is that? Because all Americans are trained to have faith and confidence in large organizations over small ones, such as Exxon, Federal Express, McDonald’s, etc., you have a natural edge if you look “big”. So how do you “look big”? A good, cheap way is to “fake” a company car. Everyone knows that only big companies can afford to issue company cars, and it’s very easy to make your car look like one. All you need is a magnetic logo to stick on your doors and you’re in the end zone. It only costs about $50 to make two logos. Before you arrive at your meeting, stick them on either side of your car and your set to go. The average person has no idea that it’s magnetic and not painted on, and nobody paints a logo on a vehicle unless it’s in a company fleet. Their first impression will be that you are part of a larger, more stable company and that will make them more inclined to buy what you are selling.

Dress neutral

Never let the way you look reveal anything about you. Instead, make it look like you work for a big company. The last thing you need is to cause a negative first impression from the customer because of something you wear. For example, if you show up at a meeting wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, the customer is going to think “this person does not work hard enough, and I’m not going to reward them with my business” or “this person reminds me of my good-for-nothing brother in law who partied all the time” or some other negative thought. If you show up in a suit, the customer often thinks “this person seems like a hard-working individual who has a tough 9 to 5 job like me” or “this person is a solid company man”. The clothes you wear to sell something should never contain any labels of any type, such as a Polo or other designer brand emblem. This, again, opens the door to negativity. In addition, more formal attire gives you that “big company” image because nobody who worked for themselves would dress that uncomfortably. If you can’t handle a suit, then at least wear khaki pants and a shirt with your company logo on it, just like big companies require, or better yet maybe suit pants with dress shoes and a shirt with rolled up sleeves. Only an “employee of a big company” would dress like that, right?

No jewelry, either

You may wear one type of watch to impress people and pick up dates, but that’s not what a sales call needs. One of the best types of watches, in my opinion, are the type you can buy for $20 on-line that have your company logo on them. This really confuses customers who are normally looking at the type of watch and jewelry that someone is wearing to make a quick judgement on their character. If you wear a company watch, they can only assume you are a “company man” and give up on trying to tell more about you.

Small talk is dangerous

One good way to screw up a potential sale is to reveal personal information to the customer. Such items as your opinion on politics, marital status – even favorite sports team – can turn off a potential client instantaneously. People like to do business with people like themselves. So you need to try to reveal nothing personal about yourself, and instead to focus strictly on business. There’s nothing more painful to watch than somebody who is new to sales who walks up to the customer and immediately puts their foot in their mouth by saying, “boy that was some election – I’m glad the democrats won” or “can you believe those Dallas Cowboys – they’re the lousiest team in football”. Instead, open with something like “let me tell you the basics of what we want to do here” and go straight into the business side of the deal, sidestepping any informal small talk. A great, safe conversation starter is “tell me how you got into the _____ business” or “how long have you owned this land?” These kind of openings get the customer to talk about themselves and not about you. It’s O.K. for them to reveal their own personal information – you may be able to use that to help make the sale. But you should never deliberately reveal yours.


Good salespeople and negotiators make every attempt to improve their odds of success. Often, this is nothing more than getting off on the right foot with the customer. Take these precautions to ensure that you have the best chance possible to succeed.

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Put A Billboard On Your Desk For Extra Focus

For over 30 years, I have always had a model billboard on my desk. The one that I have I built myself from balsa wood and wooden dowels. I originally built it as an instructional demonstration model for a bank on how a wooden billboard worked. But it always stayed on my desk, as I thought it might give me some good luck. It’s worked so far. In case you aren’t handy at building a model billboard, here are a couple that I found on eBay. It always helps to put a similarly scaled car on there somewhere.

model billboards

The British Are Good About Working Under Pressure

We had an enterprising sign painter who once would put down 4’ x4’ sheets of plywood on the floor in the shop and, over time, these panels would become covered in thousands of drops of different color paint. He would then pull them up and sell them for about $100 at art shows. They really did look like a $1 million Jasper Johns or Kandinsky original. I thought it was pretty clever, and secretly regretted that I didn’t come up with the idea myself.

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