Expert advice on how to buy outdoor billboard advertising: Key things you should know about outdoor billboard advertising, who to hire to help, how outdoor advertising is purchased, tips on gathering prices, and tips for saving money.
Key things to know about buying outdoor ad space
Know this: Posted rate card rates and prices are what the media sellers hope to sell the ad space for. Think of the rate card like suggested manufacturer list price. Remember, everything is negotiable. The sellers are looking for longer term contracts for a lot of boards/spaces. They will bundle unpopular spaces with the more popular boards as a way to offload the undesirable boards. You should do a “drive around” and see exactly where your ads will appear. You may not want your ads to appear in some neighborhoods or places if that would be inconsistent with your brand image.
Tips on gathering outdoor billboard media prices
The $5.8 billion outdoor advertising business represents one of the few media types that are still bought and sold exclusively offline without any of the efficiencies the internet provides. You have to call and ask for prices (and deal with a sales rep).
The “big three” sellers of outdoor space are: Lamar, Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor. They account for 65 percent of total sales.
Clear Channel is the largest nationwide seller of outdoor ad space. While most of this business is done offline, their website is excellent and does have some pricing. Use this as a starting point: www.clearchannel.com
Other outdoor space sellers may not post their prices online and will require that you call to talk to someone in person (so their sales reps can get your name and sell you on buying from them).
SRDS stands for Standard Rates and Data Service. This company compiles books and online tools for print media costs. Their service for an individual costs more than $600, too much for an individual small business to justify buying. Check your local library to see if they subscribe to SRDS.
ADstruc (www.adstruc.com) is a newer company that acts as an online auction and listing marketplace for outdoor advertising, which includes billboards; “street furniture” such as bus shelters and benches, and shopping mall displays; transit ads, including moving vehicles and transit stations; and alternative media such as airplanes at beaches, gas pump panels and postcard stands, among others.
ADstruc revenue comes from a small software-as-a-service fee for listing inventory, as well as a 15-percent commission from sellers on each transaction. They want to make buying outdoor advertising as simple as Google’s AdWords. They don’t have deals with the Big 3 outdoor sellers (yet) but they may be a good source for speciality outdoor space.
How outdoor billboard advertising is purchased
For outdoor billboards:
- Circulation is measured by the number of people who have a reasonable opportunity to see the billboard. This number comes from a third-party media auditing company.
- A full showing or #100 showing is the number of billboards needed to reach 100% of the mobile population in a market at least once during a 30-day period. A half showing (#50 showing) reaches 50% of the mobile audience.
- Business owners, or your media buyer, need to talk to and negotiate rates with each individual outdoor space seller.
- Media buyers generally send out a RFP (request for proposal) and then meet with the sales reps to hear their ideas, pricing and special deals.
- You generally can’t buy “one board”, especially if it’s in a premium spot. Those go the largest advertisers who sign multi-year contracts and spend the most money.
- The media space sellers for outdoor advertising will propose what boards/spaces they have available and you should evaluate each space to determine if it’s great/good/OK/bad placement for your ad. Then you start negotiating.
When selecting and buying outdoor ad space
Be very specific about who your target audience is (and isn’t). Define the demographics of your prospects: age, gender, education level, household income, where they live, and any multi-cultural groups you want to reach, etc. Some companies buy billboards near retailers where they sell products. They want billboards near Bed Bath & Beyond or Best Buy stores for instance.
Evaluate and compare proposals based on:
- Targeted reach and frequency. That is what the cost is to reach your target audience, not just anyone who sees the ad. People who are not your target audience are considered “waste.” There’s a lot of waste in outdoor billboard advertising unless you have a very generic product/service that appeals to everyone.
- CPM, cost per thousand, to reach your target audience.
Consider concentrating your advertising in a few boards where you can afford to have a consistent presence. This way you will look like a major advertiser in that area.
From our experience
If you’re buying outdoor billboards in a city or town, you can do this yourself by working closely with best outdoor billboard salesperson you can find to help coach you. You want that sales rep to be from the largest outdoor billboard space seller in that town or city since they’ll only be recommending the boards/placements they sell.
If you’re buying outdoor billboards regionally or nationally, you’ll want to work with a media buying agency with expertise in outdoor media buying and trafficking (sending all the posters to the right place by the right time). The hassle factor alone of managing all the logistics is worth it to pay the media buying agency.
If you want to hire experts to help
You need to find people with expertise in outdoor billboard advertising. This is a very niche and specialized area of advertising and marketing that most general marketing agencies and even ad agencies may not have much experience creating or buying ad space for. A good way to find experts in outdoor billboard advertising is to research the local agency for large outdoor billboard advertisers like McDonald’s or another advertiser who has a lot of presence in outdoor billboard space in the town/city you want to advertise in. The ad sales reps for outdoor media sellers are also very helpful. You want to find a sales rep with a lot of experience (not the new hire) and a willingness to educate you.
Tips for saving money buying outdoor ads
- Ad rates are negotiable. Ask about special pricing for packages, an annual contract, bonus ad space, and better placement without the premium.
- If you buy direct, ask for the wholesale rate (15% lower).
- Keep asking the sales reps for better rates and what’s called “value add” (tickets to concerts, shows, bonus space, sponsorships, etc.).
- Monitor your ads to assure that you are getting your money’s worth of exposure. Don’t hesitate to demand make-goods (such as free advertising) for significant mistakes.
About advertising placement for outdoor billboards
- Consider ad wear out when determining how many boards you want to place along one driving route or in a neighborhood or airport.
- Pay particular attention to adhering to FTC (Federal Trade Commission) laws regarding claims and comparisons to competitors. If the FTC receives a complaint they can and will require the advertiser to pull the ad in question until the issue is resolved. You are guilty until proven innocent. For small businesses that may only have one ad to run, this could mean you have to pay for media space you’ve reserved and don’t have an ad to run. The FTC website does an excellent job explaining the laws: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/advertising-faqs-guide-small-business