The Billboard Mastery Podcast

Blockage can kill a billboard’s value, but are there methods to bring those blocked signs back to life? In this Billboard Mastery podcast we’re going to discuss the science behind dealing with obstructions and share stories of signs that went from blocked to un-blocked using effective strategies.

What is The Billboard Mastery Podcast?

Welcome to the Billboard Mastery Podcast, where you will learn the correct way to identify, evaluate, negotiate, perform diligence on, select the construction type, build, rent the ad space and operate billboard signs. And now here is your host – the guy that built from scratch the largest privately-owned billboard company in Dallas/Ft. Worth – Frank Rolfe.

Your billboard needs clear visibility to be seen, because if the viewer cannot see the billboard, it's of little value. But sometimes things try and block the visibility, might be a tree, might be another sign, might be a building. And when those things arise, do you give up? Do you just say, "Well, gosh, darn it, I guess that billboard's worthless now?" No, there actually is a science to trying to fix obstructions. This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery Podcast. We're going to talk about obstructions and how to potentially fix them. Now let's first note, there's some obstructions you certainly cannot fix. If there's an office building blocking the sign, then there's no way you're going to get them to take the office building down to make that sign more visible. So you have to know at what level you need to say, "Okay, I quit. I give up. There's no way to fix it."

But pretty much any other obstruction other than a physical building can be fixed. It is possible to fix it. So let's go over what some of those other obstructions might be. The classic one of course is vegetation, normally trees. But if you have a wooden sign, very low to the ground, it could theoretically just be grass or weeds. Now, can we fix those items? Well, potentially. Let's go over how that might work. Let's assume that what's blocking your billboard is a tree on a neighboring property. We know that that tree is owned by that property owner. So we can go to the property owner and we can say, "Hey, we were just curious, is there any way that we could compensate you for the removal or just the trimming of that tree?" Now, if it's someone's backyard with their beautiful pool complex, of course, they'd have a problem.

They'd say, "Well, there's no monetary value of that tree great enough to make me lose my beautiful view." But in most cases, the neighboring property that has the tree on it, they could care less. It's normally a commercial property fronting on the highway. The highway frontage portion is typically not the best part of the land. It's loud and often in many cases, that isn't where the access is. Not all highways in America have frontage roads. So often the road that serves the property comes from the other side of the tract. So if you go to the person and say, "Hey, I'd like to pay you to cut down or trim the tree." It really just becomes a matter of money. They may say, "Well, okay, how much would you give me?" And of course, then you have to look at, "What's the value of that obstruction as far as that value of that sign with the obstruction and without?"

And if you say, "Well, if that sign didn't have the obstructions, I could rent it for $1000 a month. Then you would think nothing of paying that person $1000 to remove the obstruction. That'd be a bargain. That would be literally a dollar-tree transaction. So often when people don't get obstructions removed, they don't offer money for removal of the tree or whatever is holding it back. And the problem that is, why would the neighbor do it? Because they like you, they know you. They have no bonding with you. They don't even know who you are. So often to get trees and that type of thing cut down on private property, it's a matter of money. Then we rely onto the nature of if that tree obstruction or high grass comes on state right-of-way, now you have a whole different problem.

You can't typically go to the state highway right-of-way people and say, "Well, I want to pay you to remove your obstruction." Because they don't really do that kind of thing. So instead, with that kind of obstruction, you need to learn your state law regarding the fact that some states do allow you to have some degree of visibility access on signs on the highway. So you may find in some states there is actually law on the books, although it's very esoteric and you'll have to find it, that they will allow you or will allow themselves to cut down things that block your sign. It's not true in all states, it's true in some. But the problem's going to be if you're in the state where it doesn't allow you to do that, if you were to touch that tree, you'd be committing a crime. So you don't want to do that.

That option just isn't there. You're going to have to find some way in that case to see if you can find someone who has authority in the government to allow you or them to trim back that tree or grass. So highway right-of-way properties are much, much more difficult than privately owned ones to reduce blockage, when it comes to vegetation. Then comes the issue of other items, which are not permanent fixtures, but on private property. And the classic one is a sign. Sometimes people have signs that block your billboard in one direction, but you block theirs in the other direction. It seems like stupid situation. You each have two-sided signs, but both parties only have the free use of one. In those case go to the person with that sign and say, "Hey, would you mind if I lowered your sign? Because that way the traffic can see both of our signs clearly in both directions."

And you'd be shocked how many times the person might say, "Well, if you'll pay for it, I'll do it." And once again, you have the problem as being cleared. Now, in both of those cases of the vegetation and the sign, the issue was that you've got to do it. You got to really work it. You got to go to them and really push the issue, and you're going to have to write a check in some manner to get the job done. But these things can be solved. It's amazing how many billboards there are in America right now that have blockage, which don't need to have blockage. I'll never forget the billboard that I bought in downtown Dallas from a large, well-known billboard company, which had a sign right in the middle of it for a parking lot. And that sign had been vacant forever. It had been vacant for as long as that parking lot had put up that sign right in the middle of it.

So I went to the company and bought the sign for nearly nothing. Went to the parking lot guy and to my amazement, he said, "I don't care. I don't think that sign is very effective anyway, you can just take that thing down. I don't care." Why had the billboard owner not already known that? Because they'd never bothered to take the effort to go and try and get it solved. It's that kind of energy is actually what will save the day, typically with obstructions. Now, if you're unable to solve an obstruction completely, even things where there's a building blocking it, it doesn't mean you can't technically still resolve the obstruction by simply rethinking how that billboard is viewed by the customer and reorienting the artwork on it. I had a billboard once, it was blocked by a church up on a highway north of Fort Worth.

So all you could see of the billboard was a portion that the church roof didn't block, which was an inverted-L shape. So what did I do? I created ads that would work with an inverted-L shape. I found that inverted-L shape would allow you to have an arrow all the way across the top. You could put writing in the arrow that goes all the way across the top, and then some writing down vertically beyond that. So when I went to advertisers, I didn't pitch them on renting a whole billboard, that wouldn't work, because they'd drive out and say, "Well, you can't see it." I went out and pitched them on renting the portion of the sign that was not obscured, and you know what? It worked. I was able to keep that sign rented all the way until I sold it.

Other times, you may have a sign that's got some other terrible obstruction to it, and instead of making it a horizontal billboard, when you go to sell it, you make it vertical. Also, you can sometimes make those billboards with blockage effective by using really big letters or very bold colors. The bottom line is you only live once. When you have a sign with an obstruction, you can't just give up, you got to figure out there's some way to eke out some amount of money that you can get on a recurring basis from advertisers for that sign, because in most cases, if you work it hard enough, you will find a solution. This is Frank Rolfe of Billboard Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.