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Marketing 101: It's a Sign

July 2009
By: Jerry Thacker
As you travel down most highways, billboards line the side of the road. With the recession rocking along, you've probably noticed that some of the billboards in your area are blank. There's never been a better time to 'bargain' for advertising rates! A billboard used properly can be an effective advertising tool for a pregnancy help center. Here's what you should consider if you're thinking of utilizing billboards.

Location, location, location

The value of the billboard depends on how many sets of eyes view it on a daily basis. Billboard companies calculate this statistic by counting cars, obtaining traffic study car counts, or by actually installing cameras behind the billboards and recording the number of people who view the billboard. The company charges accordingly.

Target, target, target

Billboards are great for general advertising, but keep in mind that most pregnancy help centers are trying to reach a small fraction of the total population. Only about 1 percent of the population is first-time pregnant at any given moment. Another 1 percent is pregnant again after having one or more children. This means that 98 percent of the viewers of the average billboard may have no interest in your message. However, there is also a small 'pass-along' viewership that knows someone who is pregnant as well. Try to find a location that will be viewed by a higher percentage of your target market. A good choice might be a billboard located near a college campus or a high school.

There are several different kinds of billboards including those that feature digital displays and those that have pre-printed vinyl covers. Either way you go, full color is an option.

You may want to talk with your local billboard company about their donating billboard space for your operation when they have billboards that aren't sold for a particular period of time. You may be asked to pay for production costs associated with the creation of the original exteriors, and you will have very little discretion over where or when such donated ads would appear.

Most billboard ads appear on freestanding billboard units. However, some are posted on the exterior walls of buildings that are exposed to many passersby. Most ads are computer-printed, but some ads are painted directly onto the exterior surfaces of buildings. You might want to cruise town to see if there are buildings where you can have your message posted. The building's owner may be willing to allow you to use the space because of your public service operation.

You want to find the best value in billboards, so price the various options that are available in your market. Keep in mind that most billboard operations have few or no competitors. In many towns there may be just one or two billboard companies, so unless you can persuade someone to put one on his property for you and raise the money for its construction, you probably have only one or two companies from which you can rent space. Nevertheless, don't be afraid to bargain!

Content, content, content

Billboards must be read in a very short period of time. Traveling at 60 miles per hour, a person has less than four seconds to get the message. The rule of thumb is to limit a billboard message to seven words. If you would like to place a telephone number on the billboard, be sure that it is memorable (e.g., 1-800-GET HELP). Also, use the simplest graphics possible. Don't try to put your hours of operation and other detailed information on a billboard. The message must be short and easily comprehendible.

You might find another advertiser that would be willing to share a billboard. Perhaps a business would be willing to pay for the whole billboard, use only half of it for their message, and leave the other half for your message. Your ministry gets exposure, and the business gets advertising and good will for allowing a community service to share the billboard.

Approach your billboard purchase and use as a consumer, not as someone who is operating a pregnancy help center. Have someone drive you by your billboard. Measure the time that the message can be read.

For more information, visit, the website for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc.

Jerry Thacker, B.A., M.A., is President of Right Ideas, Inc., and Publisher of At the Center. He can be reached at

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