Billboard, the most well known facet of out-of-home (OOH) advertising, has long had a bad rap in Hampton Roads. Many communities have enacted and currently enforce strict signage regulations that severely limit the number of locations and their availability. Still, even with the seismic shifts in media consumption brought on by untethered Internet access, OOH remains an impactful and efficient medium for location-based and brand messaging. As more boards convert to digital signage, the limited space can accommodate more total advertisers in rotation. The future of buying that digital space – in fact, all OOH – will continue to get caught in the wave of technology change that is programmatic planning and buying, but that is a topic for a future conversation.
To get a broader perspective, I reached out to Rob Smithwick, VP of OOH media strategy for EMC Outdoor, to answer a few questions about the comparative state of OOH in our market.
Q: How does Hampton Roads compare with other markets its size relative to billboard saturation?
A: Hampton Roads struggles with billboard coverage in its largest cities: Virginia Beach (containing about one-third of the market’s population), Chesapeake and Hampton. These cities’ laws governing locations are so strict that finding approved and available locations to build on is very difficult. Many years ago, Virginia Beach created laws to remove all boards through attrition. As time passed, and roads were widened, boards were lost forever. What good locations do exist in these cities are expensive due to demand. Coverage is “good” in comparison to other markets / cities in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Suffolk.
Q: What does the conversion to digital signage look like?
A: The space owners have converted their BEST locations to digital, just like they did when Trivisions were the newest option (mechanical, three-sided, rotating faces). Those “best” locations provide more advertisers the ability to reach their targeted traffic / demographic by offering up to eight “spots” per complete rotation. Each spot stays up for eight seconds as a national average, in most cases nationally. Some space owners run six advertisers at 10 seconds each. Both would allow each ad to be seen about once per minute.
A: On a percentage basis, the number of digitals may seem low, but keep in mind that the space owners are only converting those boards with the highest client demand and traffic, so their impression counts are good. In Hampton Roads, about 4% of the total number of boards are digital. That percentage will certainly grow over time. The cost of the construction and installation of digital faces is coming down with the national demand.
Q: What has that meant to the industry? What should advertisers expect in terms of cost/exposure with digital v. static boards?
A: Digitals have basically expanded the quantity of “faces” in the best locations. There are no production or installation charges; you can change creative throughout each day, week, 4-week period or day-part, and much more. In my opinion, there are downsides. You now share that space with other advertisers, so your Impressions are lower than buying a comparable static board, because of the increased number of advertisers. Additionally, the space owners have determined that they can charge a premium for each “turn” on each board. While it is less than buying its static neighbor, per 4-week period, it is not one-sixth or one-eighth of the rate. If a static face in the same area has a cost of $8,000 per period, one digital turn, with the same traffic, would likely be $4,000 to $5,000 per period.
Q: Any comment on overall spend – up or down here, and here vs. nationwide?
A: Billboards in Hampton Roads are about 15% more expensive than other comparable markets, and evenly placed coverage is a struggle. You have to buy a little deeper (or more boards) to achieve your TRPs. That is why we offer alternatives like trucksides, gas pump tops and transit in Hampton Roads, and other markets with similar challenges.
Q: Anything different about outdoor here that advertisers, big or small, need to know and be aware of in planning their advertising?
A: There are good billboard opportunities to be found. Like most businesses, occupancy drives rate, so checking on availability often, buying at the right time and finding the best locations to reach your target audience is key. Don’t buy boards that you, your family and friends see. Buy boards that your POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS see. Keep your target in mind. Leave your ego out of advertising. Again, considering other Outdoor Media options may be helpful, and there are many in Hampton Roads. Most advertisers stop at Billboards.
Bottom line, as a part of an integrated strategy, OOH is a traditional medium that bears strong consideration in your media mix. Digital conversions should continue to help provide inventory relief. While not comprehensive, these maps will give you a good feel for locations across the market.