Much has changed for Lamar Advertising, founded around the turn of the 20th century as a small sign company. Today, Lamar Advertising provides clients with out-of-home advertising space on billboards, digital, transit and highway logo signs.
“Lamar has a large national footprint thanks to our collection of small, local companies,” Vice President of Operations Robert Switzer says. “Our goal is to try to keep the local culture intact while having the efficiencies of a large company.”
Lamar’s sales and management are conducted locally, but the underlying advantage of the business is its ability to create partnerships on local and national levels and use its extensive buying power. Among Lamar’s assets is a fleet of about 1,400 trucks. The company generally allows local managers to buy trucks and have them maintained locally, then take control of leases at a national level and control the lease with one leasing company.
“This is part of having the intellectual power and systems of a large company, but allowing some decisions to be made locally,” Vice President of Field Operations Micky Vint says. “We make money locally, so the local managers play a large role in helping to keep customers happy.”
One of the company’s investment areas for its truck fleet has been a focus on gaining visibility into fleet activity by utilizing a GPS management solution. The company worked with Fleetmatics to bring in a solution that allowed Lamar to increase productivity by 15 percent, decreased fuel costs by 10 percent, cut engine idling time by 66 percent and improve on-site safety audits for OSHA compliance and employee safety.
“We’ve also invested in technology that has allowed our staff to receive their work orders onto their smartphone and utilize GPS systems to be routed to project sites,” Vint says. “As projects are installed for a new customer, they can take a picture of it and have it sent back to the office in real time so we can see it and know the work is done.”
Around 15 to 20 percent of Lamar’s revenue ends up back in the hands of local partners for billboard leasing purposes. There are a number of ways that the company goes about acquiring land and determining where its billboards should go. The company has 150 offices around the country, each with roughly 15 to 20 people on staff.
On Top of Change
One of the continuing challenges for the company has been staying on top of the various technology changes in its industry. Many years ago, Lamar’s offerings included painted and paper signs that quickly deteriorated. Now Lamar can print on polyethylene, printing hundreds of signs at a time. They last longer and can be printed and shipped from one place, and its product offerings now extend far beyond simple printed signs.
“Technology has worked in our favor, whereas it has been a disruptor in all other advertising mediums,” Switzer says. “This has included everything from enhanced printing capabilities and digital signs to automation and the ability to count cars and receive information from billboards.”
For example, technology has provided Lamar with the ability to find out if a billboard light is out. And, by using LED lights, it can cut power bills and consumption.
“We can get more reliable products out on the street,” Switzer explains. “Coming down the pike is the ability to track cell phone information so we can have data on where people are coming from and when they pass our boards. We will also be able to use camera and web data to better monitor traffic information.”
As a national entity, the decisions Lamar makes will have a profound impact on the future of the entire industry. Looking ahead, the company intends to find ways to put technology to work with its cell phone partners so it can leverage metrics on the people passing by its locations. They already help Lamar communicate with boards regarding maintenance issues, and receiving data on who is viewing the billboards and when is the next step.
The past few months have seen a lot of activity for Lamar. Late last year, Lamar announced a new partnership with leading global OOH communications agency Posterscope for the beta launch phase of the world’s first real-time trading platform for digital billboards. The platform is the result of a partnership between Posterscope, leading location-based technology company Vistar Media and Lamar Advertising Company.
Posterscope and Vistar Media selected Lamar as a media owner partner for the beta launch phase, which commences during the first quarter of 2015. Posterscope will utilize Vistar’s digital OOH real-time buying platform to offer brands greater agility and audience targeting, as well as access to premium inventory, while growing the OOH market by opening up more online budgets to the medium. The move helps ensure that Posterscope’s clients can take full advantage of the connectivity of digital OOH.
The initiative creates a premium quality ‘private marketplace’ combining audience-based trading with location-based intelligence. This also sets the groundwork for brand-new applications of increasingly real-time data to inform OOH buying decisions. This groundbreaking new platform will enable brands to target audiences in real-time.
Being able to trade premium inventory in real-time at scale allows brands to maximize relevance, engagement and targeting which is essential for the growth of OOH. This highly collaborative and innovative initiative delivers a major step change in the medium creating value for both advertisers and stakeholders in the OOH industry. With the launch of the beta phase of this initiative, Lamar will be part of an effort to bring the power of online techniques to the real world, in real time, in a fully automated way.
In January, Lamar announced its new partnership with Blue Bite, the Mobile Standard in Out-of-Home, which will give advertisers the ability to create measurable mobile campaigns through the use of outdoor media. The addition of mobile touchpoints to Lamar’s transit media will allow advertisers to reach audiences at scale with the right content at the right time.
The partnership will include the integration of Blue Bite’s mTAG platform on Lamar’s street level media. First being deployed to 440 transit locations throughout the Buffalo, N.Y., area, both companies are working to expand the network footprint to a potential 25,000 mobile touchpoints across the U.S. and Canada.
Blue Bite’s proprietary mTAG Platform allows advertisers to deploy and monitor campaigns in real time, helping to further demystify consumer mobile behavior. Various technologies such as Near Field Communication (NFC), Quick Response Codes (QR), Short Message Services (SMS), Bluetooth and Geofencing are used to facilitate a variety of brand-to-consumer interactions.
The partnership with Blue Bite brings an interactive element to outdoor advertising campaigns, giving advertisers an opportunity to reach consumers with relevant mobile content. Mobile devices are essential to consumers’ day-to-day lives, creating the need for a strong advertising delivery mechanism to help interact with them on a more personal level. The partnership will improve how smartphone users consume and experience mobile content, providing ads that contain relevant information and value.
Blue Bite and Lamar have worked together for the past several years on OOH-to-mobile campaigns featuring clients like Kind Snacks and Under Armour. They have focused mainly on bridging large format with mobile through geofencing technologies, but are now expanding their partnership to increase their reach.
In the years ahead, Lamar will continue to look for ways to partner with great vendors. Not a huge number, just enough to ensure competition while also making sure it has help on quality control initiatives.
The company will also look to ensure that safety remains one of its top priorities. Regular safety analysis will help to track activity in the field and make sure that the people working on its signs are coming home safely.
And Lamar’s future priorities will undoubtedly include a continued focus on keeping up with technological change. The company plans to fine-tune its technological infrastructure while ensuring that standards are more universally adopted across its footprint.
“We are working on a new module for LED signs so we can devise an industry standard for digital billboards that will lead the industry for the next 25 years,” Switzer says. “Right now, we support many sizes and different capacities, and it is tough to stay on top of all of that. By creating the industry standard, we can simplify the digital billboard for customers and technicians by ensuring a consistent format.”