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Who Owns Billboards and How to Buy Billboard Space

March 7, 2023

Though there are numerous Out-of-Home formats in existence, when most people think of outdoor advertising, the first thing that comes to mind is the quintessential highway Billboard. Billboards are a unique form of advertising that gets your ad out into the public eye. Large format Billboards or “Bulletins”, the official nomenclature, reach high numbers of people as they go about their daily activities. But how exactly does one go about buying Billboard space?

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In this article you will learn how to buy Billboard space and discover more insights on costs and other considerations.   

How to Buy a Billboard

Planning and buying Billboard space (or any OOH format) can be a bit more complicated than buying other advertisements but with an OOH Specialist and the proper steps in place, it’s something that anyone can do. When you are looking into buying Billboard space, you will want to take some of the planning steps involved in any advertising campaign, such as determining your target audience, budget and creative, but then there are additional steps you must take: 

  1. Contact the Billboard companies or Media Owners that own and manage the Billboards in your desired locations. There are about 1,400 Media Owners in the US alone, ranging from small mom-and-pop shops to international suppliers. If you want multiple Billboards, then you will likely be reaching out to multiple Media Owners. Though it is quite possible to do this on your own if you are buying a single Billboard, it can be quite a hassle depending upon your chosen target market or if you are planning on multiple placements. The process for procuring a space from an individual may differ greatly from buying from a larger supplier. You may want to consider working with an OOH Specialist who can manage those relationships for you and who will make decisions based on placements that make the most sense for your audience and campaign.
  2. Research Billboards in the locations that you want to target that fit your budget and campaign goals. You must consider factors such as traffic flow, visibility and the demographics of the areas to ensure you are getting the most value and reaching the correct audience. Online mapping tools, aerial photography and local market research can help you gain a better understanding of each location. 
  3. For each Billboard supplier you wish to use for your campaign, you will need to arrange a separate contract. While this can be simple depending upon the Billboard’s location and the number of placements you are procuring, it can quickly get quite cumbersome for regional or national campaigns. The contract may include contract duration, cost per impression, the size and format of the Billboard or Billboards and any creative restrictions. 
  4. Next you will need to create your ad and send it to a production company for printing. The Media Owner  has final say on whether the creative is approved, and may  handle the installation post production.
  5. Finally, launch your campaign and monitor the results to assess the success of your campaign.

Billboards Are More Accessible Than You Might Realize

Everyone from local politicians who want to advertise their campaign on a small town highway to luxury companies advertising on digital Billboards in Times Square can buy a Billboard. Plus, there is a huge amount of Billboard inventory available. In the US alone, there are over 350,000 Billboards, not even accounting for the numerous other OOH formats available. 

However, there are some factors that may affect what Billboard space is purchased, which is why it's important to have a clear understanding of your target audience, budget and advertising goals in advance of your campaign. Also, depending upon the time of year and the location of your chosen Billboard, there may be more competition for that space. For example, during the 4th quarter, many organizations want to do holiday advertising to encourage people to purchase their products or services. This can drive up costs and make it more difficult to get the exact location you desire.

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Once you have found your desired location, you will want to know what suppliers own the Billboards in that area so that you can begin work on contracting for the space. Though most often owned by Outdoor advertising companies that own entire networks of Billboards and other OOH formats, Billboards can be owned by various entities.

Independent Billboard operators own and manage fewer Billboards than outdoor advertising companies. Some real estate companies own and lease Billboard space on their properties including spaces on buildings and rooftops. In places where outdoor advertising is regulated by the government, local governments may own and manage Billboards. In some cases, even individuals may own Billboards. 

Depending on who you are working with the process may differ slightly as to how you gain the space. Working with someone who is experienced with OOH advertising can help your business find the best locations for your campaign needs, navigate Media Owner relationships and simplify the process to make sure you get the best value for your investment.

Billboard Regulations To Consider

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 limited the placement of any Billboards around highways, rural, scenic and agricultural areas to protect natural beauty along federal highways in the US. Though today, there are still many highways that allow for Billboard advertising, there are a number of country, state and local regulations around the world that advertisers will need to consider, depending upon the location and what the brand is selling. 

  • Zoning Laws and Outdoor Advertising Laws: The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 is one example of a zoning law for Billboard advertising. These laws regulate where Billboards can exist and can also include restrictions on size and height, how many Billboards can exist in an area and what types of advertising can be displayed. 
  • Content Restrictions: Depending upon the area there may be restrictions on what types of content can be displayed. For example, many areas have restrictions around advertising alcohol, gambling and cannabis. Offensive or inflammatory content is also often not permitted. 
  • Permits and Licenses: Some state, local and private organizations may require permits and licenses to legally install and display a Billboard. 
  • Environmental Regulations: Some areas may have restrictions on Billboards related to their environmental impact that can include the use of synthetic materials or PVC, and requirements for energy-efficient lighting. However, there are ways to make your outdoor advertisements more sustainable using recycled materials and even by incorporating living walls that add more greenery to a space.

When you are researching what locations are ideal for your Billboard advertising campaign be sure that you are aware of the rules and regulations for your chosen location. 

Finding The Right Media Owner For Your Billboard

Once you have identified your ideal Billboard space, you need to be able to find the Media Owner for that space. Oftentimes, the name for the Media Owner will be located somewhere on the Billboard, but there are a few steps involved with reaching out to Media Owners. OOH Media owners provide the outdoor advertising infrastructure that will be used in the campaign. Larger media Owners have a variety of formats available beyond Billboards, from bus shelters and benches to murals and transit ads. As mentioned previously, these media owners can range from individual owners with just one piece of inventory to large international businesses with a plethora of inventory to choose from.

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Ultimately, what media owner you select depends upon how much it costs, what products they offer in your target market, and on the business relationship. 

Throughout the process from selecting markets, media owners and units to production, installation and tracking the success of your campaign, an OOH specialist will offer guidance and make sure that everything goes as planned.  Though OOH specialists do not own inventory themselves, they can be a useful resource for executing an effective campaign. 

When choosing a media owner for a campaign you’ll want to consider whether they have presence in your target markets, the quality of their inventory and whether there are any obstructions to the viewing area. If you are planning for any embellishments or creative customizations for your Billboard then you may also want to research whether your selected Media Owners will allow for that possibility. 

What Makes an Ideal Billboard Location?

Considering where your Billboard will be depends first upon your target audience and market and then on the available inventory. However, there are other factors that go into determining which Billboard makes the most sense for your campaign. You’ll also want to consider the cost of the area where you are advertising and make sure that it aligns with your budget while still reaching your goals. You will also want to consider the traffic of the area and the visibility of your Billboard.

  • Traffic and Demographics: More densely populated and higher trafficked areas are more likely to be seen. However, consider whether the area you are choosing is indeed along a route your target audience is likely to travel. For example, if a high-end luxury fashion brand advertising its seasonal collection then it would make more sense to put your advertisement in a major city or shopping hub than along a rural highway.
  • Visibility: Your Billboard should be in a place where it attracts attention and can easily be seen. Consider whether there are trees, buildings or other things blocking your Billboard from view. Also find out what the lighting conditions are for the Billboard to ensure that it can be seen day and night. You may also want to think about the other Billboards and outdoor advertisements that are in the area. If the location has many Billboards then yours may not stand out against the clutter. 

In addition to these factors, you’ll want to consider how your location could affect the Billboard’s overall design. Make sure in designing your Billboard that you are considering dwell time, focusing on simplicity, and use messaging that engages your target audience.

How Long Will My Billboard Run?

Billboard campaigns can vary in length. In the US, a typical campaign runs for four weeks, but longer or shorter segments of time can be bought, especially with the rise of programmatic digital out of home that allow for ads to be bought based on overall impressions. In other parts of the world, typical campaign lengths can vary. Some campaigns in more competitive markets, or dominations and takeovers can run for as short as an hour. 

Consider your overall budget and campaign goals to determine how long your campaign should run. Billboard availability can also affect campaign duration if there is high competition for the space. Working with an OOH specialist can help you determine the length of time your campaign should run to effectively reach your target audience. 

Is It Possible to Change Messaging Throughout a Campaign?

In today’s world where Digital Billboards are becoming increasingly popular, it is becoming more commonplace to change your messaging throughout a campaign. Sometimes advertisers will swap their creatives so that their audience can enjoy fresh messaging and other times they may find that their messaging is not resonating as they had hoped. Whatever the case is, it is possible to swap out creatives mid campaign. 

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Though it’s more difficult to swap out printed materials as it will take time for the new vinyl to be produced, checked for quality assurance, shipped and installed, it can be done. It is much easier to swap out Digital Billboard creatives, as that can be done remotely and almost immediately. 

However, there may be a cost associated with changing the messaging on your Billboard. This can vary depending upon a number of factors including the type of Billboard, the location and the level of service provided by the Media Owner. 

If there are any issues or damage to your Billboard during the campaign, then it is also something that may incur additional costs depending upon the above factors. Working with an OOH expert can help you to navigate these potential challenges while reducing the strain on your wallet. 

How Much Does Billboard Advertising Cost?

Billboard Advertising costs vary from a couple of thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending upon a number of factors. Advertising in Times Square will be significantly more expensive than on a rural highway two hours outside of Topeka, Kansas. Likewise, a shorter campaign will be cheaper than a longer campaign. When considering how much to budget for your Billboard campaign, you should also consider any costs incurred developing and producing the creative, any insurance and any fees for installation. The more elaborate your Billboard Advertising campaign, likely, the higher the cost will be. Some other factors that impact the cost of a Billboard include:

  • Size: Though location is generally a larger factor for cost, oftentimes larger Billboards will cost more than smaller ones. 
  • Format: Though digital Billboards don’t have the same production costs, they can be more expensive than standard vinyl units.
  • Competition: If you are marketing in a competitive area for advertisers, expect the costs to be higher.
  • Display Frequency: For digital campaigns with rotating screens, you may pay based on how often your advertisement is shown.

When planning your campaign and budget, make sure that you consider all of the cost factors above and build in what is related to your campaign accordingly.

Getting Started with a Billboard Campaign

Though buying a Billboard or a series of OOH placements is possible to do on your own, working with an experienced OOH Specialist can help simplify the process. At Billups, we have 20 years of experience working in markets all over the globe. Our OOH Specialists can make sure that you consider every possible factor in planning your campaign from budget, to placements and tracking the overall success of your campaign. Contact us today to get started! 

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