The Basic Process of Completing Permit Applications for Your Digital Billboards

​The permitting process for off-premise outdoor advertising billboards typically includes both state and local permit applications. Though not always challenging, city and state officials will carefully review each application to ensure approval is given in the best interest of the public. We’ve put together a few tips that will help you begin your permit application process. Before you start, we still recommend that you research the basic rules and ordinances related to getting outdoor advertising digital billboard permits.

Reach Out to Your Local Officials
The best way to start is by reaching out to local zoning boards or municipal officials to see what the zoning law allows. Codes may be different for modifying an existing billboard structure versus the addition of a new billboard, so you want to make sure you are meeting the proper requirements. Once you know the requirements that apply to your planned installation, you can begin working on your permit application. Think of it as a job application. Keep it professional and neat, and double check that you provide all the information needed for their decision.

Gather Specific Details About Your Project
You want to make it easy for your local planning department to understand your proposal. Start by gathering the details explaining how your billboard will be built and operated. Your billboard manufacturer should be able to provide a rendering, product drawings, traffic data, and if necessary, a light study.

Listen to Feedback and Modify Your Plan If Needed
After getting feedback from surrounding businesses, local community leaders, and city residents, determine if you need to update your plans to facilitate approval by the governing board. Planning ahead for modifications that make the local community happy will help you with any future projects you may have in the same area.

File Your Application In Person
Once you complete your permit application, make sure it is clear and easy to read. Try to file the application in person, so if there is any information missing, you have the opportunity to provide it quickly. The application process can be different depending on where you are located, and in person filing may not always be possible. If you must file by mail, be sure to submit all materials in the same parcel and include payment for any fees related to the application.

Consider Taking Part in a Public Hearing
Connect with the local community to see if there are any objections to the installation. A public hearing will give local officials and residents an opportunity to learn about your project. By including members of the community in the process, you demonstrate that you’re willing to take their viewpoint into consideration. Be open to plan modifications if there is something that raises concern among residents.

State Permit Application
Once you get your local zoning permit you can send in your state permit application. The requirements can be found usually on your state department of transportation website. We encourage you to work with your municipal officials through the permit process too as they will be able to provide the most up to date information.

Helping Communities Embrace Digital Billboards
From improving local businesses to delivering important safety messages, digital billboards can fill the gaps left by the departure of other local forms of media. Many community newspapers have closed their doors, and TV or radio options cover a wide broadcast area that often overlooks the needs of small to medium sized communities.  

Here are a few benefits digital billboards provide for the community that you should share with local officials during your permitting process.

  • Digital billboards can help grow sales tax revenue because local business advertising encourages local purchases. Some communities, like the City of Chicago, have even deployed public/private partnerships to participate in a joint venture to erect digital billboards on city-owned land. Many cities in the U.S. face budget shortfalls, so it’s important to outline how your project can help to improve local businesses and drive revenue.
  • Because digital billboards are hyper-local, they can be helpful in fighting crime. In 2020, digital billboards assisted the FBI by sharing Alejandro Castillo’s image on Rio Grande Valley expressways in Texas. The fugitive was accused of killing a woman in North Carolina before fleeing into Mexico. The FBI says advertising on electronic billboards allows the agency to make any updates as the investigation went along. We often hear of captured fugitives, crime tips and missing persons located due to postings on digital billboards. Digital billboards also helped to publicized the case of a gang member who was distributing heroin and cocaine, and the effort lead to the capture of the fugitive.
  • Digital billboards are an ideal method for mass communicating warnings, evacuation routes and preparedness information. During Hurricane Florence many digital billboards in the area posted warnings, updates, and FEMA announcements. The massive prep for Hurricane Florence revealed the sophisticated use of digital billboards by FEMA and other government agencies. Few zoning boards would argue against a tool that can help keep residents safe.
  • Public service announcements on digital billboards can be very powerful. Consider dedicating a small portion of your advertising space to helping not-for-profit or other public interests. A couple of years ago digital billboards helped a woman fighting for her life. She needed a kidney transplant and was struggling to find a match. Her doctor suggested she search for a live donor by posting an ad on a digital billboard. She was able to tell her story on four digital billboards in Portland to find a donor and now credits the billboard ads for helping to saving her life.

If you have questions about permitting give us a call at 800-219-0496 to learn more. Watchfire has more independent operators as customers than any other manufacturer. Our team of experts can help answer your digital billboard questions.

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