Focus On Your Billboard Business, Not Your Digital Billboard

Last week we attended the annual Independent Billboard Operators (IBO) meeting. The first day of the meeting revolved around Roland Advertising in Cookeville, TN. Dave Roland was generous enough to host the group at his office, where he spent more than half the day with a couple dozen fellow billboard operators explaining how his company has been so successful with digital billboards in and around their relatively small town. Cookeville is in Putnam County, which has a population of about 73,000. Roland installed their first digital billboard there about five years ago and their network now includes more than twenty units, mostly within a 30-mile radius. They’ve got insight and discipline that carries their plans through execution, but what Roland Advertising has done can serve as a model for anyone in the industry.

They’ve made a total commitment to digital. While digital only makes up only about 10% of their total number of faces, it accounts for almost half of the 30-year old company’s revenue. Through their sales and design departments, they’ve educated and trained their customers to utilize the dynamic capabilities of digital outdoor advertising. The customers who trust Roland to lend their expertise to their digital campaigns see better results, their advertising dollars work harder, they see the results in their business. This cycle of success means advertisers renew their digital contracts with Roland.

After spending most of the morning at the Roland office, we reconvened in the afternoon in front of his first digital billboard. Dave was kind enough to call attention to why he continues to partner with Watchfire for his digital billboards. As we all stood in front of the display he bought from us five years ago, Dave pointed out that the sign looked as good as new. His operations department provided a demonstration of how to service the display and said that while they’d looked extensively at other vendors, Watchfire “is at the tip of the arrow” in terms of reliability and responsiveness.

Over the course of 20-something billboards, Roland Advertising could have reduced their initial investment amount by going with a “low-cost” digital billboard vendor. There are plenty of options in the form of companies that import cheap finished cabinets from Asia, do some light assembly here in the US, and supply the part of the market that finds it hard to resist the lure of up-front savings. But what Roland did, and so many of our other 300+ billboard customers have done, is focus on the total ownership experience. Yes, what it costs on Day One matters. But what really drives billboard businesses like Roland Advertising is knowing that their digital billboards will run, and run, and run. They won’t be inconvenienced by frequent service trips. Electrical service costs will be low. The boards will look just about as good as new many years down the road.  And the bottom line is that they don’t have to concern themselves with the day-to-day operation of the digital billboards — freeing them up to work on new leases, develop and educate new customers, and maybe even have the time every once in a while to sit back and admire the business they’ve built.

Darrin Friskney is vice president of sales for the Outdoor Advertising Division of Watchfire Signs.

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