Billboard Monthly

May 1st, 2019

Memo From Frank

Each year we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday, which is dedicated to the remembrance of those who served in the U.S. military. But do we do enough for those in the U.S. military the other 364 days of the year? Remember that our freedom was hard fought against a number of nations starting with the American Revolution. Millions died in WWI and WWII, and are still paying the ultimate sacrifice across the world even today. Before you can have free speech you have to have basic freedom, and that comes at a serious price. So why not go out of your way to recognize those who have served our country on a daily basis. Thank members of the military. Buy them lunch. Support charities that serve those who became disabled as part of their service to our country.

And have a happy and safe Memorial Day!

Creative Thinking Can Equal Big Money

LED billboard under construction

This is a billboard that just went up in my small town in Missouri, on a state highway that is the main approach into town. It’s our first LED sign, and it’s already fully leased. While we have many regular billboards on this road, this is the only LED unit. A billboard owner had the foresight to realize that the town was finally ready for LED (the town was just made a National Park and the traffic is supposed to go up 400%). The bottom line is that creative thinking can be hugely profitable in the billboard business.

Understanding the role of novelty

Viewers are, of course, attracted to things that are unusual. Marketers have used this theory for hundreds of years, from Burma Shave signs to billboards that emit smoke, steam and moving lights. When a sign attracts attention it also attracts advertisers and at higher than normal rates. That novelty can involve unusual shapes, sizes, colors, lights and locations.

Supply and demand

The best type of novelty signs are those that nobody can mimic. For example, this new LED sign has a prominent location on the top of a hill in the curve in the road. Warren Buffett always talks about the benefits of a “moat” and that means that the best business models have a barrier to competition.

Quality of audience

Another trait of the best creative signs is that they reach a high demographic audience. That makes each extra look that much more valuable. For example, some of the most creative signs in the U.S. are found on roads like Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, in which all the top movie producers and stars drive to the studios. Advertisers pay a fortune to reach this select market – as much as $50,000 per month.


Don’t be afraid to take advantage of creative opportunities to build unique signs. When the mix is perfect, these type of billboards can be highly profitable.

Ideas To Battle A Sluggish Economy

2 signs on 1 billboard face

Most of America is in an economic upswing. But there are always markets that, for one reason or another, are not currently strong. The good news is that smart billboard owners know a number of strategies to keep billboards fully occupied even when the economy is weak. Here are some of the best.

Split the advertisement into two parts and half the price

Known as a “combo” sign, you take the traditional ad face and divide it into two side-by-side billboards. In other words, your 14’ x 48’ billboard face becomes two 14’ x 24’ units. Not physically – you don’t replace the ad panels. Instead, you simply mentally draw a line down the middle. Since it’s half a sign, it now only costs half the rent. You see these on the highway all the time and they’re highly effective. The best combos are a hotel and a restaurant, or a gas station and a restaurant – both cases that work well for the average traveler.

Rent the sign to an association of a number of advertisers

Think of this as a “combo” sign on steroids – you take the idea of sign sharing to a new dimension. An example would be a group of businesses in a downtown area and advertising the generic downtown area as a tourist stop. It’s simple math – the more advertisers you have participating the lower the cost per business. One top here: don’t make the grouping too large or it may be hard to chase them down for monthly payment. Maybe limit it to five or six participants not twenty or thirty.

Coop situations

In this arrangement, the advertiser links with a manufacturer who pays a portion of the billboard bill. The most common coop advertisers are western wear stores that are tied to certain boot or hat brands like Justin, and auto supply places that are tied to certain auto part manufacturers like Valvoline. Normal coop arrangements are that the brand pays 50% and the store plays 50%.

Offer a “cancellable lease”

Another idea that works well is to get advertisers over the “hump” by letting them have the freedom to cancel. It’s the same idea that stores use by giving you the ability to return what you buy if you change your mind. While you can’t keep it that loose because of the cost of producing and installing the advertisement, you can give the advertiser the right to cancel with 90 days’ notice. The trick is that if that freedom gets them to sign the lease and try the sign out, they rarely cancel (the same as you and the retail store purchase).


Markets are not always up, they can also go down sometimes. In times of demand weakness, you can still keep your signs filled with these tricks.

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Basic Sign Color Theory

white letters on green billboard

Unbelievably, there has been a great deal of research done on colors and their relation to each other. This data is extremely important to the billboard industry, as our giant advertisements can succeed or fail based on color selection. So what are some of the most important traits of colors?

Contrast with the environment

The first stop in color theory is what colors billboards should be to stand out in a background of mother nature. The answer is those colors that are the opposite of earth tones – namely red. That’s why so many major U.S. advertisers use red in their logo and signs. Think about it. McDonalds, Wendy’s, Chick-Fill-A – did you think that was an accident?

Contrast between letters and background

Dark letters need a light background and vice versa. When you have a dark letter on a dark background, it’s impossible for the viewer to read the copy. As simply as this sounds, it’s amazing how many advertisers get it wrong.

Avoiding “vibration”

There are some colors that should never be used together on a sign, as the eye sees them as interference and they make it harder to read. This is called “vibration”. An example are the colors green and red. If you put red letter on a green background, it’s impossible to read them. This theory ties to the fact that the eye seeks out the opposite of the color that it sees, and green is the opposite of red. If you look at a color table, those colors that are the exact opposite should never be mixed on a sign.


Billboards are all about colors. It’s important that you understand this and the correct strategy in utilizing them to their full advantage.

How To Get A Sign Variance

billboard pole

All cities and states have ordinances regarding billboards. These are mandated by the federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965. However, there’s still a way to build signs where none are currently allowed. And that’s to obtain a “sign variance”. So how can you accomplish that?

Find the right niche (old town and new highway)

You can’t get a sign variance on any location outside of a city limit, so disregard those. Instead, it has to be on land within a city limit. On top of that, obviously, it has to be land on a highway and it helps a lot if the location is in a smaller town as big cities are really hard to work with. My experience is that the odds-on favorite set up is when you have an old town that has been bypassed by a new highway that is still located within the city limits.

Quality of audience and traffic count

Getting a sign variance is often costly in both time and money, so you want to only take the shot if the sign is on a road with good traffic and a quality audience. All interstate highways qualify, and most state highways are also worthy. But little two-lane roads should be avoided.

Sell the idea before you go before the council

It’s not hard to find properties to get a lease on in these cases, as every property is a target. What creates the value is getting the unique permit. And you never pull the permit until you already have the votes you need to get it passed. Go to each member of the city council and tell them about your idea and get their feedback. See what you’d have to alter about your concept to get their vote. Only once you get the needed votes should you apply for the permit.

Normal ways to get the votes

The most common method to get the variance is to agree to build a “welcome to the town of _____” sign in tandem with your billboard. Another strong selling point is that the town needs exposure from the new highway to get traffic to come into town to shop and dine.


Billboard variances are extremely valuable. You can pull it off if you understand the basic strategy. There’s a whole lot more money in this game of strategy than something on Xbox.