From the December 1999 issue of Startups

It's called out-of-home advertising and it's everywhere--providing lots of innovative and affordable ways to promote your new business. Out-of-home advertising used to mean traditional outdoor signage--billboards, bus and bus-shelter signs, metro dioramas and posters, and the like. But now, imaginative out-of-home opportunities are anywhere you look--from TV screens in convenience stores, airports and malls; posters in restaurants and clubs; special magazines in doctors' offices; airplane banners; taxi tops and even on the big screen.

National Cinema Network Inc. (800-SCREEN-1), with more than 10,000 movie screens under contract nationwide, provides entrepreneurs the chance to reach movie-goers in their local neighborhoods or across the United States. Advertisers enjoy the benefits of placing their messages on 40-foot screens, and can target as many as 54 million people aged 18 to 49 every month. "Annually, we reach five times the number of people who attend all professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey games combined," says Laura Adler, vice president of marketing for Kansas City, Missouri-based NCN.

Ads that run on movie screens are part of a new form of out-of-home advertising called "place-based media" in which the site draws the audience to the advertising. As traditional advertising vehicles have become increasingly expensive, and audiences have grown fragmented due to more media options such as cable television and special-interest magazines, place-based advertising has sprung up to fill the gap.

Major media companies have recognized the opportunity to help businesses more selectively reach their target audiences by creating advertising media in the places where key audiences can be found. Upscale Americans frequent major airports, so Turner Private Networks Inc. created the CNN Airport Network to reach them there. If you own a pet, chances are you spend time in a veterinarian's waiting room and leaf through materials placed there with the support of companies that advertise pet supplies and pharmaceuticals.

Place-based advertising reaches customers where and when they're likely to be receptive. Consider the recall rates, as reported by Nielsen, for National Cinema Network advertisers. Local entrepreneurs who participate in their on-screen entertainment program, which includes running an advertiser's billboard (in slide format) three times before each movie, enjoy a 62 percent recall rate, according to Adler at NCN, who says, "That's nearly three times that of television."

The proliferation of out-of-home advertising venues means that no matter what type of product or service you're marketing, there's an affordable way to narrowly target and reach your audience. Suppose you've started a business selling beepers and related products and you're located in a high-cost media market such as Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles. You could spend $1,000 to $2,000 or more to run one ad in your city-wide newspaper on a single day, or you could spend about $300 to display your message three times before every movie for a full week--on all eight screens--at a local cineplex. You could also put your message on a bus shelter at a key intersection for an entire month for about $1,000. That's less than the cost of one print ad on a single day! To announce the opening of a sports bar and restaurant, an ad exec I know successfully reached the tens of thousands of fans who attended a Washington Redskins football game by hiring an aerial advertising company to fly back and forth over the stadium towing a promotional banner throughout the game. Total cost: just $300.

If you can think creatively, there's probably an out-of-home advertising strategy that will reach your best prospects. Anytime Anywhere Outdoor Inc., based in Highland Park, Illinois, is a mobile billboard company that transports billboards through busy city streets on specially outfitted trucks that travel predetermined routes. If you want to reach Wall Street stockbrokers, for example, a special route can be devised to move your billboard through New York City's financial district during the hours it's most likely to be seen by the highest number of brokers.

Founder Neal Weed says the company has vehicles in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles that can be dispatched anywhere in the United States as needed. Whether used by Coca-Cola or local entrepreneurs, Weed says mobile billboards are good tools for new product roll-outs, though they work best when you have an easy-to-understand concept. "Simplicity is the essence of any outdoor advertising," he says.

The best resource for locating out-of-home advertising opportunities and evaluating their costs is an SRDS publication (http://www.srds.com) called Out-of-Home Advertising Source. This reference guide, available at major public libraries, breaks down out-of-home advertising by type, from aerial and inflatable, transit, airport, shopping malls and movie theaters to advertising in high schools and colleges.

Out-of-home advertising helps you take your message to your customers and present it in an environment where it's more likely to be noticed. There's an old expression, "Fish where the fish are." Out-of-home advertising lets you sell where the customers are.

Chatterboxes

By Gwen Moran

Looking for a way to learn more about your customers without the expense of traditional focus groups? Try a chat room. With more people chatting online than ever before, chat is becoming an important new marketing tool for businesses.

Dennis Chominsky, 27, co-owner of PFS New Media, a new media and marketing company in Wayne, New Jersey, helps companies incorporate feedback tools into their Web sites. Chominsky says chat adds a human element to a site, allowing businesses to develop better relationships with their customers. To make the most of chat's potential, follow a few simple steps:

  • Try multichatting. In addition to holding chat-based focus groups, try using chat for customer service support or for online events, such as seminars led by a special guest "chatter."
  • Do-it-yourself or go pro? Once you decide how extensive your chat usage will be, you can decide whether to install chat software yourself or seek some professional guidance. Ichat (http://www.ichat.com) is a popular prepackaged chat software; mega-developers Oracle and Lotus are beginning to bundle chat software into some of their business applications. The more complex your usage, however, the more likely it is you should consult a professional Web site design company to help.
  • Location, location, location. For high-volume chats, you may want to have a chat-based site host your chat. Sites such as Talk City (http://www.talkcity.com) charge from $1,000 to several thousand dollars to host a chat, but their traffic is an impressive 2.6 million hits per month. In most cases, though, Chominsky suggests keeping chat on your site to build traffic there.
  • Moderator assistance? Whether or not to hire a moderator depends on the scope and content of your chat usage. Chominsky routinely trains his clients' employees to monitor chat sessions periodically during normal business hours. "It's unlikely there would be a problem on a business-specific site," he says. However, more controversial or high-traffic sites should consider monitoring their chat sessions at all times.
  • Promote your chats. As with any other marketing activity, promotion is the key to building awareness. Many search engines have listings of chat events you can use to spread the word. And don't forget traditional public relations, advertising, direct mail and/or cross-promotion--all excellent strategies to get people to your chat.