Billboard Basics: The Challenges of Outdoor Advertising in Healthcare

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

blank billboard against blue skiesOne of the oldest forms of advertising is everywhere, but it’s tough to do it right.

The first American “billboard” appeared about 175 years ago to announce the circus was coming to town. These days the billboard is only one of many forms of Outdoor Advertising-and that’s a totally different animal. Approach with caution, however, outdoor is a different kind of advertising. It can be a powerful tool for some marketing plans, but it’s easy to make mistakes.

Sometimes called “away from home,” outdoor advertising is pervasive. It’s seen, or maybe not seen by each of us, hundreds of times each day. It’s everywhere. There are billboards, posters, at airports, as digital displays, at bus shelters and benches, and even signs that wrap the outside of the bus itself.

But unlike the outdoor sign for your office on the building and/or near the vehicle entry, this media category is a public space that is rented for a specific and period of time for your message. And there’s a wide range of sizes, shapes, commitments and costs.

Because outdoor is often intrusive, many healthcare institutions are uncomfortable with what they envision as having “their name in lights.” True, it’s not for everyone, but outdoor does have a lot of value and can produce amazing results when used properly.

First, it’s important to keep in mind that a professional image is not determined by whether or not you’re doing outdoor advertising. Instead, it is the quality of the graphics and the message that’s used to communicate.

And further, the posted message is valuable information for the public, such as the availability of a procedure, technology, or service. One high-quality and thoroughly professional example is an outdoor presentation for a cardiology group. The placement was next to the hospital and promoted their in-practice heart health and rehab center.

Outdoor advertising can be powerful and effective, but we don’t recommend it often. Outdoor is different from other advertising forms, and it’s not easy to do it properly, especially without professional help. The right location(s), the right creative message, right design, and the right price are just some of the issues.

Here are a few “billboard basics” that we should examine together:

Outdoor is a secondary medium. Consider how the cost of outdoor advertising will significantly enhance your main media channels. With only rare exceptions (and typically only with a serious budget commitment), outdoor advertising primarily supports other external communications.

How’s the visibility? Before you post any message, check the physical location of the actual board(s). If it is too high, too quick for normal traffic to see, obscured by tree, not properly illuminated—it will not be successful.

Understand the level of exposure. Outdoor advertising companies know the Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) for every location. This represents the over-18 public that drives past the spot where your message can be seen. Depending on the location, if they’re driving by, they may be commuting and may not live in the immediate neighborhood. Some highways generate massive traffic, which brings your “cost per exposure” way down, even if your monthly costs are high.

One idea in five seconds or less. Creative execution for outdoor is tough…really tough. The public has only a moment to “get it.” Usually this boils down to effectively presenting a single idea, using only 5 or 6 primary words.

Use creative, but not distracting, graphics. At the risk of repeating ourselves, creative execution is tough. Images speak volumes; they can attract attention and provide context and emphasis. But too much of a good thing can result in pure clutter and/or confusion.

If you’re thinking about outdoor advertising, let’s talk before you buy into a costly mistake and let’s discuss how this unique form of external communications might or might not fit into your marketing plan.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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