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Small businesses turning to billboards to build name, spread message

Higher quality, lower prices boost outdoor ads

Technology improvements are changing the field of outdoor advertising by making high-quality billboards more affordable to small businesses.

Leslie Kelly, general manager of the south Mississippi plant of Lamar Advertising in Gulfport, said that within the past 12 to 18 months, technology improvements have made it possible for small businesses to afford high-quality vinyl billboards that in the past would have been too expensive for all but large national companies.

“It has helped tremendously,” Kelly said. “The quality of our product is much better. It lasts much longer than the old painted sections. And the small businesses are able to be appear more professional. Their advertising looks as good as GM or Ford.”

The entry of casinos into the Coast marketplace has had a big impact on outdoor advertising.

“There has been a lot of growth in outdoor since gaming was legalized,” Kelly said. “It has brought in competition, which has had a dramatic impact on how we manage our real estate portfolio, and sales have increased. There is more inventory now available because there is increased demand for the product overall.”

Lamar Advertising, a national firm that is headquartered in Baton Rouge, is one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in the state. Lamar has acquired a number of other smaller outdoor advertising companies across the country in recent years.

Outdoor advertising firms which do business on the Coast are still rebuilding following Hurricane Georges. Lamar Advertising, which is self insured for hurricanes, lost 90 poster faces and 24 bulletin structures. The company expects to be completely finished with rebuilding in mid-March. Lamar Advertising had revenues of $288 million in 1998, and expects to do more than $300 million worth of business in 1999. Net sales in the Coast market are about $4 million per year.

Harold Munn of Munn Enterprises in Hattiesburg, said his company has been very busy repairing damages since the hurricane. But he said his company, and most other sign companies, were already well loaded with work. So the hurricane wasn’t necessary to boost sales, and since most outdoor advertising companies already had plenty of work, that meant a lot of the hurricane repairs were done by outside contractors.

“We do get our share of work off of it,” Munn said. “Storms pick up business. But mostly what that does is bring in a lot of outside contractors to do repairs. In most cases, by the time we build billboards, they are are sold. The economy is so good that everyone is wanting to advertise.”

While outdoor advertising firms didn’t indicate that a shortage of skilled workers is a problem, they all said that it takes special training to do the work, and the firms have to train their workers. Workers need a diversity of skills such as electrical wiring, painting, welding, sheet metal fabrication and crane operation.

Outdoor efficiency

Kim Moss, vice president and media director, GodwinGroup in Jackson, said that more and more companies are using outdoor advertising because it is so efficient on the basis of cost per thousand people reached.

“It has broad potential,” Moss said. “We see a lot of our clients using outdoor for promotional campaigns in addition to long-term image building. Billboards used to stay up a minimum of a year. Now with cost of production down, you’re able to put up an outdoor campaign for a month, pull it down, and change it out. It has a lot more flexibility.”

Moss said the drawbacks of outdoor advertising are a short exposure time for consumers, limited message capability, and impacts of weather than can tear paper or cause other damages. Zoning restrictions have to be considered and it isn’t always possible to have a billboard in the geographic locations that needs to be targeted to reach the correct audience.

“On the flip side, it has a real broad reach and high frequency,” Moss aid. “Those are two strong selling points. And it is a good way to support other messages being run out there. It also has point of purchase capabilities; you can impact the consumers at the point of purchase.”

About Becky Gillette

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