Out-of-home advertising is hot--and there's a lot more than summertime temperatures fueling the flames. If you're not familiar with the term "out of home," it encompasses everything from billboards and bus shelters to skywriting and the vast numbers of new "place based" media, such as beach sand impressions or the posters above diaper-changing stations. Even many billboards, which date back to when town shopkeepers first put up pictorial signs, are being transformed into cutting-edge LED boards that can be changed instantly to advertise time-specific promotions, such as happy hour at the neighborhood pub. The best news is that out-of-home advertising in its varied and many forms provides effective, affordable marketing opportunities for entrepreneurs.

In the ten years from 1994 through 2004, out-of-home advertising revenues nearly doubled nationwide, reaching $5.8 billion last year. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Inc., in 2004, the lion's share (62 percent) of out-of-home ad spending went for billboard space, close to 20 percent was spent on transit, 14 percent on "street furniture" (everything from bicycle rack displays and bus shelter panels to displays in shopping malls), and 5 percent on what the industry calls "alternative outdoor" or place-based media.

Create Your Own Campaign

With hundreds or even thousands of out-of-home media opportunities to choose from, how can you pick the right ones for your business? Just make sure the media you select meet these three criteria:

1. The Right Location. Many out-of-home opportunities involve stationary media, like billboards and bus shelters, for example. So it's vital to choose locations where they'll be viewed by a high percentage of your prospects and customers. Before approving your media buy, investigate the visibility of each location you choose and the amount of traffic that'll be exposed to your message. Some high-traffic locations permit your target audience to see your message every single day, so not only can stationary media in the proper locations give you the reach your campaign needs, but it'll also allow you to achieve a high frequency with members of your prospect group.

Many of the new place-based media opportunities put your message where it can immediately influence a purchase. Ads placed in and around supermarkets, for instance, are effective for products sold there. In grocery stores, you can put your product name or logo on supermarket clocks, shopping cart ads and a variety of displays that reach consumers just prior to a purchase decision.

Other place-based media can actually be used to seek out and reach highly qualified prospect groups. Want to influence golfers? Signage on the sides and backs of golf carts are available on nearly 1,000 golf courses nationwide. Or how about communicating with young singles? Posters located in the restrooms of popular bars may do the trick.

2. A Simple Message. With most outdoor and other out-of-home advertising methods, it's essential to communicate using a very simple message. In fact, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America recommends using fewer than seven words and three visual elements on a billboard. Complex messages, or any product campaigns that require consumer education, are all wrong for out-of-home media. The very best billboards and most other outdoor signage generally use a single strong visual image and just a few words to convey their messages to drivers in seconds.

If you do have a more complex message or want to get informational materials into the hands of your prospects, try alternative forms of place-based media. One of the best is the information-rack brochures you see in professional offices. Consider how effectively the brochures in a veterinarian's office sell canine heartworm and flea and tick preparations, and how successfully the brochures and videos in your dentist's waiting room are for selling teeth whitening procedures. Both of these are excellent examples of place-based media that foster customer education and demand.

3. The Best Price. By putting your message exactly where it'll reach your best prospects, you'll tailor your out-of-home media buy to eliminate waste. In most parts of the country, you can buy just one outdoor billboard at a reasonable cost per month, or choose urban bus shelters in just a handful of the right locations that'll reach both riders and passing drivers. No matter your budget, there's an out-of-home advertising method that's priced right, from ads on dry cleaning bags and hangers and poster-size ads in college laundry rooms to having your logo printed on food carriers at your local minor league baseball stadium. Fit the media and venue to your message and budget, and you'll have an out-of-home campaign that will draw traffic and sales.