Bill May On Defending the Out of Home Industry

Today’s podcast guest is Bill May, the retired executive director of the Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association.  Bill tells how Missouri out of home advertising companies rallied to defeat a Scenic America anti-billboard initiative in 2000.  He also gives tips for effective political action.


What happened in 2000?

Bill May, retired Director, Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association

The anti-billboard groups, Scenic Missouri and Scenic America, had been trying to ban billboards legislatively in Missouri…In 2000 they were able to gather enough signatures to get it on the ballot.  It was called Prop A.  And what it would have done was ban any new billboards, make all existing signs in Missouri non-conforming and change the state outdoor advertising law so that the primary emphasis was removal of non-conforming signs…

A discouraging start

Once we knew that it was something that was on the ballot…we commissioned a poll and to our horror we found out that 72% of people supported it…That was quite discouraging.

Making the case for billboards.

We formed a campaign committee…all of our members pledged 5% of their prior year’s revenue to our campaign.  All of our members understood that if this were to pass, it was the end.

We hired an economist who is a professor at the University of Missouri to do an economic impact study…we found out that this proposition if it passed would have a negative economic impact in Missouri of over $600 million…that was one of the biggest influencers in our focus groups.  The other was the impact that this would have on businesses that rely heavily on outdoor advertising.  Fast food, restaurants, that point, tourism was the number 2 industry in Missouri.  People understood that.

We sought out allies.  Our big advertisers.  People like the Missouri gaming commission.  The Missouri restaurant association.  Those kind of people also chipped into our campaign.

…We recruited a speakers bureau from our members…OAAA sent in a professional media trainer to work with those people…I think I probably did an interview or meeting with every newspaper editor in the state…We had willing people like Independent Service Company that’s based in Missouri.  People like Lamar printing.  They provided us with posters and vinyls that our members put on their structures…at one point we had at least 600 out of home displays on Missouri highways…We bought television time, we bought radio time…we were able to raise and spend a total of about $6 million…

Opinion begins to change

We continued to do polling…we started seeing the numbers move.  It went from 72% in favor down to 63% and then it was 60% and the last poll we did was about two weeks before the election and we were only behind by one point.

Election Night

We did really really well in rural Missouri.  Most of the votes in favor of Prop A tended to be in Kansas City and St Louis.  So as votes would come in from different areas we would be ahead and then we’d be behind.  We only wound up winning by 1.2%.

What lessons can the Out of Home industry draw from the Missouri experience?

You have to get all of your people involved.  You have to get as many businesses that rely on you involved as you can.  You have to get OAAA involved…

 When we started the Association the Industry was engaging in too much litigation…I heard at one point that MODOT had something like 70 attorneys that were handling outdoor advertising cases…It really alienated MODOT…

We had no presence in the legislature.  Our people simply were not involved politically.  You have to know who your legislators are.  You have to make a trip to Jefferson City every once in a while and talk to those people.  You have to tell them your side of the story…

What do you remember about the Prop A campaign?  What lessons are there for the out of home industry?  Let Insider know using the form below.

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