The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On Billboards...

(click on photos to make them larger)

I have become increasingly offended by The Rapid City Journal's coverage of the billboard issue. They are in a difficult spot. They are supposed to be champions of the First Amendment. But, they also sell advertising in a competitive market. Billboards compete with the Journal for advertising dollars. A lot of dollars.

The Journal's news coverage and opinion pieces have me envisioning giddy newspaper executives foaming at the mouth over the fact that a few vocal goofs are trying to put legitimate businesses out of business. There is a certain joy that comes with toppling someone.

So a group of local businesspeople, who have businesses on Mt. Rushmore Road, have decided there are just too many billboards there. Stand at the north end of the street at night, look south and you will see a hodgepodge of back-lighted and neon signage. One of the proponents of restricting billboard companies is Modrick Travel, which is owned by the anchor/weather guy at KOTA TV, Rapid City's ABC affiliate. Another vocal proponent is Deb Jensen, formerly associated with Duhamel Broadcasting and with Rushmore Radio. Broadcasters want those advertising dollars the billboard companies get, too.

Nobody should be surprised, I suppose, that the ugliest sign on Mt. Rushmore Road is a neon cowboy riding a buckin' bagel. Deb Jensen owns that business. And, she's offended by the billboards? There are very few billboards on Mt. Rushmore Road. The sign clutter is due almost entirely to on-premise signs owned by the businesses they're in front of.

But the billboard measure does not address on-premise signs. Only billboards.

Comes now Alan Hanks, mayor of Rapid City who sent a campaign card I received in today's post.

"Personally speaking, I plan to vote YES on those measures, although I urge you to study the issue and draw your own conclusions. As you do, please keep the following points in mind:

In an information and technology-driven global economy, high-paying jobs can locate just about anywhere. If we want our fair share of those jobs to locate in Rapid City, we must make sure Rapid City is an attractive place to live.

Tourism and conventions are our bread and butter. People do not come here to look at signs and clutter.

The proposed new limitations apply only to billboards. They do NOT affect the on-premise signs of local businesses."

So there you have it. Alan Hanks is happy to help make sure the outdoor advertising businesses in Rapid City are not allowed to grow their businesses. He is happy to place restrictions on one advertising medium, while handing a big fat gift to their good ol' boy competitors.

And, look at the nine photos on this card. They are all taken with telephoto lenses in order to increase foreshortening and give an utterly false impression of what people really see. The billboard limitations in these ballot measures are corrupt and they have been from the beginning. They are designed to limit a competitive business. Billboard companies are legitimate businesses offering a valuable service to other area businesses. And, Mr. mayor, I beg to differ: About a half million visitors come through our fair town on two wheels each year and they DEPEND on information they find on billboards.

As you go to the ballot, remember that the impression left by this card is an utterly false one. Remember that the offensive signs on Mount Rushmore Road are for the most part on-premise signs, not billboards. Remember that these two measures will not decrease the number of billboards in Rapid City. In fact, both major sign companies, Epic and Lamar, have sign credits and this measure will force those companies to build the signs they have credits for. So the result of your vote in favor of these measures will assure Rapid City more billboards will be constructed. Remember that voting in favor of these measures will absolutely assure the city of a court battle it cannot afford and cannot win.

Let's remember that the mayor is quick to tell people he's pro-business, while at the same time is working to limit business and reduce the number of jobs those businesses provide.

Remember that these measures will give an unfair advantage to the billboard companies' competitors. And it stinks.


Brendan Casey said...

By jobe, I think you've got it Mike! Hanks has been saving this issue for his campain. The remedies have been numerous and obvious, yet Allan has ignored all them for a little "visual clutter" on the ballot Game on, Allan . .

Thad Wasson said...

Typical Hanks, he's for it until he's against it.

repete said...

Surprising his face wasn't plaster on one or more of them... has he used them in the past for his campaigning?

Bill Fleming said...

Not sure I agree that newspapers and TV are competitors with billboards, Mike. The former provide news, opinion and entertainment in conjunction with their advertising space, and thus make a contribution to the culture.

Further, if a person doesn't want to look a TV or a newspaper, they don't have to.

There is more, much more but let's start there.

Bob Newland said...

A dollar spent by an advertiser on a billboard is a dollar the advertiser will not spend at some other advertising venue. I call that competition.

Bill Fleming said...

Not if you know what you're doing, Bob.

Bill Fleming said...

effective advertising campaigns are based on a proper media mix. each medium has it's own strengths and weaknesses.

TV competes mainly with other TV stations for the TV portion of an advertising mix. Radio with other radio stations, etc.

The main competitor for newspaper is other newspapers, and of course, themselves against their own Internet product.

Bill Fleming said...

These days, I would say the chief competitor for billboard ads would be mobile phones and 'pads' and GPS systems in people's cars.

Bill Fleming said...

...and other people's signs of course... On premise, highway, etc. as Mike notes, you could look down Mt. Rushmore RD or North Street and miss half the billboards for all the other visual clutter.

Bob Newland said...

You have to love the track of the argument.

Fleming says he's "not sure" if he agrees with Sanborn that newspapers and TV are competitors with billboards.

Newland says that when two or more parties each try to extract money from an advertiser, those parties are competing for the advertiser's money.

Fleming says it's not competition if I know what I'm doing. Having emplaced the ground rule that I don't know what I'm doing, he says some stuff that only reinforces what I said.

Since I don't know what I'm doing, I can only sit in awe.

Bill Fleming said...

spoken like a true media rep, Bob. ;-)

Bob, would you say that beef competes with carrots for the food dollar?

That's about how astute your remark is.

Bob Newland said...

A simple statement of obvious fact does not reveal much about one's astuteness. The denial of it might.

Would you say that carrots don't compete with meat for the food dollar?

Bill Fleming said...

as a marketer, yes. if I were advising the beef industry I wouldn't ask tem to spend a dime trying to get people not to buy carrots. absolutely. Nor would I identify carrots as a competitor for their brand or their product in a marketing plan. if I did, they would laugh me out of the room.

Bill Fleming said...

Newland gets a job advising a boot manufacturer who wants to sell more boots. he writes in his marketing plan, 'Socks! There's your problem gentlemen. We need to convince our customer prospect that they're spending too much of their boot buying money on socks. and slippers too. You're losing a fortune there. We'll go after those first. Then we'll take on the jeans, by gawd.'

Get it yet, Bob? :-)

Bob Newland said...

Oh, I think I get it. You've taken a stand you can't defend with relevancies, so you throw condescension at your opponent until he finally will no longer attend the conversation.

Me, well, I have to decide between carrots and meat every time I have a dollar to spend at the grocery store. It sure looks to me like meat and carrots compete for the dollar. But then, it's already established that I don't know what I'm doing.

Bill Fleming said...

Let's cut to the chase, Bob. The competition for the billboard advertising dollar in Rapid City is between Lamar and Epic. The idea that either if them is in competition with KOTA and/or the RCJ is about as goofy as your assertion that you have decide whether to buy meat or carrots with your food dollar. Tell the truth, Bob. if there are no carrots in the store on shopping day, do you buy beef instead?

I'm trying hard to avoid the apples and oranges cliche here, mn, but you're not helping much, mon.

Bob Newland said...

I have yet to run into the challenge of deciding what to do if there are carrots and no meat and I had my heart set on buying some of each.

Perhaps, seeing an opportunity to sell a few carrots in a market where that niche is unfilled, I would see if I could sell some, thus diverting a few cents from some dollars that would go somewhere else.

But then, I don't know what I'm doing.

I'll grant that billboards are less competition for advertisers' dollars than some other venues, but that was never my argument. My argument, which you undertand well, was that billboards compete for advertiser dollars in a market where advertisers have choices. The size of their threat to other advertising venues has no bearing on the truth of that statement. You set up a straw man argument then demolished it, leaving the basic fact unfazed.

Bill Fleming said...

Whatever, Bob. Every dollar is in competition for every other dollar. You're right, you win. How profound. I never even thought of that.

In that case, KOTA and the RCJ are in competition with Safeway too! And yet, they get them to buy ADVERTISING from them every week! Those devious bastards!

Thanks for the marketing lesson, Mr. Newland. you really should write a book.:-)

Bob Newland said...

See. We got it settled like gentlemen.

Wayne Gilbert said...

Mike--there is at least one dumb on-premises sign on Mt. Rushmore Road. Calling it an ugly sign really addresses part of the problem because there are some very ugly billboards on Mt. Rushmore Road. In other words, part of the problem is that the billboards are, in my opinion, so remarkably and laughably ugly in depicting some unhappy looking people trying to promote their businesses, that we arguably need aesthetic as well as size and location review of billboards. I can't agree that most of the clutter on that street is on-premises. There are some pretty bad looking billboards there, which I frankly think are an embarassment to people like me who tout the beauty of our area. All that said, the initiative as written is a pretty poor way to address the problem, and I think that the initiative and the identity of some of its proponents must be very disheartening to people on a volunteer citizen commission who were working in good faith to address the issue.

Bill Fleming said..., when it comes to peas, carrots and meat, yes. you buy some of each. My point is, that's the same with buying an advertising mix, marketers look at media choices the same way, depending on their communications objectives.

No straw man here, just meat and potatoes marketing 101.

Bill Fleming said...

Now, all that conversation about food made me hungry, Bob. i'm trying to decide. Should I go get a burger? Or rent some billboard space?

Les said...

Experience drawn from my early days at KSTP-TV Mpls to now through several personal business's, would say all types of getting your message out(advertising) compete for the ""available"" dollars.

That being said, personally, I would hang a tire on a fence post with white paint on it for advertising before I would spend on print and TV in this day and age.

Les said...

I see you and Newland settled it while I wrote Flem, you just need to download Four Square to your device, see where your buddies are eating at and join them.

Maybe, just maybe one of them might be hangin out on a Bill board and you could join him Flem, no crazier than that time you flew up onto the windmill brother Bill.

Bill Fleming said...

Right, Les. se could eat the vinyl picture of the big Perkins breakfast special. yummy.

larry kurtz said...

Prohibition doesn't work; tax it.


actual advertiser said...

By these arguments, radio and TV and newspapers must not compete with each other either... They are after all, different markets?

Bill Fleming said...

Actual, it depends (or should depend) on your advertising and marketing objectives. Your media strategies and tactics should grow out of these. Beyond that, as Bob points out, everyone who has something for sale is in competition for every dollar you have to spend.

Question for you is, do you BUY advertising, or does someone SELL it to you?

In other words, YOU decide which tools to use. So YOU decide who the competitors for your ad dollars are, not the media.

Bill Fleming said...

Actual, it depends (or should depend) on your advertising and marketing objectives. Your media strategies and tactics should grow out of these. Beyond that, as Bob points out, everyone who has something for sale is in competition for every dollar you have to spend.

Question for you is, do you BUY advertising, or does someone SELL it to you?

In other words, YOU decide which tools to use. So YOU decide who the competitors for your ad dollars are, not the media.

actual advertiser said...

That ideal advertising model only works in an ideal world where you don't have to do things on a shoestring budget.

Not trying to argue, but best bang for the buck rules MY media buys. They all compete with each other and when one wins, the others lose.

Michael Sanborn said...

Thank you actual advertiser. Bill, Les and Bob all make decent points. But if Bill thinks that TV, radio, and newspaper companies don't think that billboards compete with them, he hasn't sat in many advertising sales meetings at TV, radio and newspaper offices.

Every advertising dollar spent in a medium other than their own, is competition. Every dollar spent on advertising in their own medium, but not their company is competition. And, let's throw direct mail, internet advertising, and silk screened specialty ads in there too.

Bill you may think it's silly for a newspaper to consider billboards competition, but the publisher of the newspaper doesn't think it's silly.

Sheese! And you regularly make a point of calling me naive!

Bill Fleming said...

Mike, if you don't know the difference between making a billboard buy versus one in newspaper, and when and why to do each, I'm sorry, but you ARE naive, my friend.

I don't doubt for one minute that the media consider themselves competition with each other.

But that doesn't mean you or the advertisers should.

I'm a an advertisers advocate, and a consumer advocate, not a media advocate. I find that's the best policy to adopt if you want to run a good agency.

Bill Fleming said...

p.s. actual. Maybe you should talk to somebody about how to spend your limited ad dollars sometime. That's kind of what ad agencies are for, you know?

Bob Newland said...

Hmmm, Bill. You're "an advertisers advocate, and a consumer advocate, not a media advocate." You find "that's the best policy to adopt if you want to run a good agency."

And you advise political candidates on how to get elected.

I'm not saying anything you say is false or ludicrous or anything. I'm just sayin' what you said.

Bill Fleming said...

Why, do you think there is something false or nonsensical about what I wrote, Bob?

You do understand that the media is not in the advertising business, don't you? On the contrary, they are in the "space selling" business.

Ad agencies advise their clients as to what their customers want and need and encourage their clients to make promises to their customers that they can keep.

Media doesn't do any of those things. Media rents out advertising "real estate." They are basically information landlords.

Michael Sanborn said...

Jesus Bill...

When are you ever going to give it up? I am far more in tune with how newspapers, radio and television operate than you are. I know how to place in all media and I'll match my record of success with yours any day, based not upon how many Addys are hanging on my wall, but how many of my clients recognize my work as an investment that pays off rather than an expense that's driving them toward bankruptcy.

Take a reality pill.

Michael Sanborn said...

This post is about billboards and whether or not the restrictive nature of the initiated measures on the June 7 ballot are worthy of a YES vote. It is not about whether or not I understand how to buy media, or whether or not Bill Fleming thinks billboard companies compete with other media. They do. And, there's no question about that, no matter what Mr.Fleming asserts here.

Changing the subject does not diminish the point of the post: Alan Hanks could have handled the billboard issue had he wanted to. Instead, he wanted to create a non-issue upon which he could declare himself to be a leader, when a leader would have recognized a cooperative industry, worked with them to come to a solution and proceeded with the process of leading the city. And, he could have accomplished this four years ago instead of allowing it to come to the expense of a city-wide election.

Las Vegas Billboards said...

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Mister Layout said...

That's a great competition indeed. That comes out pretty fierce and forward.