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A new technology gives advertisers advantages and keeps communities safe

September 22, 2009

By Ike McLeese, President/CEO, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce

A new technology is giving advertisers the unparalleled ability to change their ad messages quickly and efficiently. The same technology is making communities safer by helping catch fugitives and find lost children. It’s providing valuable information to keep the public informed about issues important to them. It is also enhancing the effectiveness of roadside advertising campaigns which often attract passers-by to businesses based in rural communities. And it’s all wrapped in a familiar package: the billboard.

Digital technology’s marriage to billboards is one providing countless benefits to diverse groups of consumers. It is also strengthening many businesses’ abilities to broaden their reach to those consumers.
However, here in Richland County a group of activists is seeking to block a plan by owners of old-fashioned billboards to update their roadside advertising vehicles so as to incorporate such new technologies — technologies which are equally effective in supporting advertising campaigns for local businesses as they are in alerting citizens to emergent situations.

Owners of billboards recently conducted a survey of public attitudes regarding the forms of recourse that should be made available to billboard owners in the extreme event that any efforts to do away with their products were to find success. According to their findings, a majority of the public supports billboard owners and landowners being provided with just compensation if a lawfully placed billboard is removed.
Moreover, as the so-called targets of messages broadcast by billboards, the public is aware of just how effective this medium is in fueling the economies of many rural communities. This sentiment reflects the public’s generally pro-business preferences, particularly during these slower economic times.

Given the longstanding effectiveness of such advertising media, it is counterintuitive to expect the opposition being voiced against plans to upgrade billboards standing in Richland County is in any ways a reflection of popular public sentiments. Given billboards’ roles in bolstering commerce in many rural communities, it is highly unlikely that a majority of citizens in Richland County, if polled, will oppose plans to strengthen the effectiveness of such advertising media, media which, for decades, has been legally positioned throughout their communities.

In effect, the effort to prohibit billboard owners from implementing their plans to upgrade their advertising mechanisms that support retail businesses based in Richland County represents an effort to reduce Richland County-based businesses’ reach to consumers. Viewed in that light, for many, opposition to such upgrades will represent an effort to stifle economic growth in Richland County, all in the interest of several citizens’ opinions about “aesthetics.” That’s right, according to a few in Richland County; citizens will derive more benefits from a landscape that is devoid of anything that will draw consumers into their communities.

In this economic climate it is counterproductive for the tastes and preferences of a few to trump any business plans that will produce economic gains for any community when those plans are embraced by a majority of the members of that community.

The economic and other benefits Richland County will derive from an initiative to upgrade roadside advertising media there will be significant. Ultimately, when it comes to the bigger picture of interests in Richland County, these benefits will make the “costs” seem altogether trivial.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2009 4:12 PM

    Letter to the Editor/Carl Muburak

    To Whom It May Concern,

    I understand council wishes to stop conversion of poster boards to the digital kind. This letter is my response to that.

    I am the owner of a strip shopping center located on Broad River road with space for six commercial tenants. I have had one of Lamar’s paper billboards on a one square foot section of my property for perhaps nearly twenty years. They have always been a responsible company to work with, have always kept my grounds free of paper and trash when changing posters and have never caused any inconvenience to my tenants or their customers.

    However, I cannot understand council’s resistance to conversion of these boards to digital devices. For my building which has been at only 50% occupancy for the last couple of years I paid nearly thirteen thousand dollars to the county in property taxes last year. This is an overly excessive tax burden that is passed on to the tenants.

    Lamar gives me the opportunity to reduce this tax burden without any effort on my part. And in these economic times any help is appreciated.

    However this monetary advantage notwithstanding Lamar offers the community something that in my mind is a much more valuable asset. As I understand it Lamar has offered to post emergency notices such as when a child is missing or perhaps an emergency notice from law enforcement. This ability alone to reach literally thousands or tens of thousands of drivers almost immediately is something that we should take advantage of.

    God forbid, in the event of a child abduction or perhaps a serious local weather emergency the ability to utilize any and all communication devices is a service all of us would benefit from.

    To top this, I think the digital boards are more in tune with the times, they offer advertisers a better bang for their buck and they look a lot nicer than outdated paper poster boards.

    I see no reason to stop Lamar from converting poster boards to digital.

    With all due respect,

    Carl Mubarak

  2. September 22, 2009 4:16 PM

    Kim O’Quinn
    Director of Marketing
    The Mungo Companies

    Dear Honorable Council Member:

    It’s logical to make the connection between new home sales and the employment rate: the more new homes that are sold, the more new homes need to be built, and the more South Carolinians can be employed. According to the 2005 US Census, almost 9 percent of South Carolinians are employed in the construction industry.

    As I’m sure you are aware, few other industries have been as hard hit by the recent downturn in the economy as the housing industry, and it is where some of the most job losses have occurred. With that said, we at The Mungo Companies are blessed to be surviving and, dare I say, thriving? There are many things that have attributed to our success. Not the least of which has been the ability to educate our buyers and the general public; and it has been important to do this in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

    Outdoor advertising, or “billboards”, have been key to a successful marketing campaign over the years. And, most recently, digital billboards have enabled us to make the best of what have been a fluid financial climate and an ever-changing housing industry. Digital technology has allowed us to respond to new laws and regulations quickly and easily, and has prevented us from wasting time and money on the process of changing our message as changes have occurred within the industry. Because of the flexibility of digital billboard technology, home builders are able to keep buyers informed and educated; and, as a result, continue to sell new homes.

    Recent ordinances passed concerning directional signage have no doubt affected the home building industry and builders are working to comply while seeking additional avenues to direct buyers to our communities. Outdoor advertising and, specifically, digital billboards will increasingly be an invaluable marketing tool for builders to sell more homes.

    As a side note, The Mungo family and family of companies has long supported numerous charities and non-profit organizations in the Midlands, and we have encouraged and challenged others to do likewise. One such industry that “does its part” is the outdoor industry. The outdoor companies in Columbia generously donate hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions?) each year to promoting events and helping raise funds for countless charities. Digital billboards have enabled more and more non-profit organizations to benefit from this generosity because of the absence of production expense and the ability to have a message change quickly and easily.

    Digital billboards in this unstable financial environment are lifeblood to local businesses and non-profits and will help set the local economy on a path of recovery.

    Kim O’Quinn

  3. September 22, 2009 4:19 PM

    September 11, 2009

    Dear Richland County Council Member:

    I am sending you this e-mail in support of the change in the Richland County sign ordinance that would allow electronic billboards in our county. This type of advertising has been proven to be an extremely cost
    effective method for businesses to competitively advertise their product and/or services to the public. It allows the backbone of our economy, small business, to compete with the big players and will go a long way to ensure their survival.

    Regardless of what the highly prejudiced print media will tell you, outdoor advertising is the most
    economical way to reach at targeted market. Electronic billboards provide even more efficiency and are extremely economical to small & large business in sending their message to potential customers.

    Numerous transportation studies support the argument that this form of media is not distractive or a cause of accidents. Claims to the contrary are false and highly misleading. Furthermore it is a documented fact that due to the flexibility of this type of electronic media it is a highly effective tool in emergency situations such as exposing criminal activity or in the case of natural disasters. Let face it, crime is a problem in our community and any method of stopping it will be most beneficial and appreciated.

    Naturally there are locations where this type of sign may not be appropriate but as I understand the
    proposal, locations of digital signs will be limited and they will not increase the total number of sign
    structures in our community. What could be wrong with that except it will raise the hackles of those who
    don’t want any type of county advertising except for costly print and airway methods? That type of reasoning is irresponsible and self serving. Every method within reason should be made available to promote the goods and services of the hard working people who live & work in the midlands of our great state. Limiting such is a disservice to those individuals and businesses that employ the bulk of our population and keep the entrepreneurial spirit or our economy going.

    From my prospective it is time to allow Richland County to embrace this highly adaptable electronic media and join the modern age of advertising. Doing so will let the people of our county take advantage of the product.

    Prohibiting this innovation keeps us in the dark ages and puts our businesses and their employees at an
    extreme disadvantage. With the poor state or our economy, prohibiting electronic signs will be a disservice to the citizens of Richland County. Allowing this type of advertising is the right thing to do.

    I urge you to vote positively and progressively to allow digital billboards in Richland County.


    Jim Cantey



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