Take It Outside...Current Trends in Out-of-Home Signage
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Take It Outside...Current Trends in Out-of-Home Signage

If you think you understand everything there is to know about outdoor advertising you may want to take a closer look. As the Pony Express rider said to the FedEx guy, “times they are a-changing.”

By Johnny Duncan

There is plenty of room for more sign professionals in the outdoor segment of the sign industry. If you’re not in the outside market now it is probably because you may not think that your business, talents or skill-set can contribute to outdoor signage. You may be surprised to find out that this corner of the industry has many opportunities open now and many more opening in the future.

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  • The outdoor signage segment of the sign industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 to 15 years. While many traditional media segments have struggled to remain competitive in a period of economic strife, the outdoor industry has remained relatively solvent due in part to the strength of local sales as both national and regional companies have shifted a significant portion of advertising dollars to the outdoor market.

    Not just billboards anymore
    Getting their message to potential customers is what every business wants to do and billions are spent each year trying to do just that. In 2003, 6.8 billion dollars were spent in outdoor advertising. Advertisers continue to spend because they know the value of the ads in the face of traffic.

    The volume of traffic can barely keep up with the population surges and so bonus delivery is virtually guaranteed. There is no argument that outdoor advertising works and works well using various applications.

    Because targeted messaging is designed to intercept consumers, wherever they go in an urban market or on suburban highways, combining traditional billboards with other newer forms of outdoor media products has made a tremendous impact improving reach, frequency and overall awareness.

    The outdoor segment has evolved to include wrapped buses, mall posters, phone kiosks, taxi tops, truck-side panels, and many other innovative mediums. Given its visual nature, outdoor is arguably the medium best adapted for branding products on a worldwide basis.

    Getting started in outdoor signage is like most businesses; you must create and keep the demand. “The 9-11 tragedy proved once again that national business can come and go in a hurry. So it is vital to have a good base of local business advertisers”, states Ray Moyers, Chief Operating Officer of the Olympus Media Group. “Consolidation continues to reduce the number of independent outdoor companies and the big three continue to get bigger. However, technology continues to play a major role in the industry”. With this technology, the doors are open for other companies to play a role in providing outdoor signage.

    Outdoor’s many faces
    If your company is not set up to provide billboards or even to compete with the big companies that do provide them, then perhaps you may want to consider acting as a subcontractor providing the electronics, neon, fiber optics, electrical systems or reader boards that the future is requiring.

    There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “Outside your home, only speak one-third as much”. Someone may have had that proverb in mind when the idea of providing tri-face signs was born.

    Three signs can now appear on the billboard and in high traffic areas where there once was one; this is a bonus to advertisers, especially during rush hour. Tri-face not only offers motion to signage, but also allows billboard owners to rent more space using the same structure.

    Not all billboard companies offer everything available in one package for the advertisers. There are niches available for those who can provide the needed ingredients. One of the hottest areas of growth is the LED Message Reader boards. Because of their instant real-time contact with the public, their popularity is growing, both with advertisers and sign companies.

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    “Renting space for billboards is becoming more difficult in some states that have moratoriums on signage along roadways”, states Howe Moody of Big Sun Fabricators. “The reader boards have given us the ability to rent more space on a daily basis as opposed to weekly or monthly. The car dealership, restaurant owner or other advertiser can just sit in their office and change the ad via a modem. The customer loves the convenience, and the sign company benefits from being able to offer alternatives.”

    Someone has to provide the computer technology, the reader board, the electrical and the installation. Breaking into this segment of the industry may appear like a tough nut to crack from the outside, but like everyone else, these companies are always looking for better quality, better prices and fresh ideas.

    Neon, fiber optics and more
    The use of additional features on billboards is very common today. We’ve all seen the humorous use of cows in the Chick-Fil-A signs or the highlighted features of a Holiday Inn. Using neon or fiber optics to accent a sign is more popular today than just five years ago.

    LED displays certainly offer more bang for the buck and advertisers are increasingly requesting the use of it on their signs. Jeff Nowlin of Boardworks, a billboard space company, says that he is seeing more of the LED type billboards being requested. “I can see a trend of the billboards progressing more toward the LED segment. Neon may play a larger role in the future, but right now the LEDs are taking precedent.”

    If your company doesn’t already offer these features, learning the ins and outs of fiber optics, neon and LED can help to diversify your business and place it in a position to be able to bid on specialty projects.

    While the rural areas still have the traditional billboards that hope to capture the eyes of travelers, cities are relying more on added, creative features to attract readers.

    “Once you start getting into the Los Angeles or Orlando metro areas, you begin to see more of the use of innovative signage”, says Howe. “Places around the tourist areas like Universal Studios, Disney World, Sea World and the airports, are using very inventive type of products and installations to enhance your typical billboard.” Of course with these enhancements come opportunities for sign companies to offer their particular “niche” services.

    Outside options
    In his Song of the Open Road in Happy Days in 1933, Ogden Nash wrote a riposte: “I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.”

    Nash’s sentiment is shared by many who have strong voices in Washington. Because of this, the moratoriums sanctioned in many states have reduced the number of billboard placements available.

    This has caused innovative ideas to emerge creating alternatives for advertisers to use and sign makers to capitalize on. Outdoor signage is not just billboards. As stated earlier, the outdoor segment is open to new ideas and as technology increases so do the opportunities.

    As Moyers point out, “The technology has changed the speed of communication from where it was five years ago. Almost everyone has a website now. With the internet and email, it is much faster to submit proposals, get designs approved and send them to print. It is not unusual to actually sell a board on Monday and have it on the street by Friday.”

    The likelihood of getting a foot in the door for a piece of the action is high and open for anyone who can provide the quality.

    Whether it is street furniture, which is ideal for generating high awareness and brand recognition near a point-of-purchase, bus wraps, motion truck-side billboards, building wraps or wherever else your mind can take you, outdoor signage is overflowing with opportunities.

    In Part II of this series, we will explore in greater depth some of the various avenues that can be pursued to be successful in the outdoor signage market.

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