• Grace Outdoor and Memphis Tangle over Digital Billboard

    This article was meant to be a discussion of the Watchfire/Blip Advertising Plan with our friends Hal and Diana Stevenson of Grace Outdoor.  As you will see from our interview, it starts out that way, but changes quickly after a run in with the City of Memphis on the install of the first of three boards being purchased from Watchfire under their Blip relationship.  Insider promises that we will get an update on Grace’s progress with the program in the future as we know there is interest in the program.

    Hal, how did you originally hear about the Watchfire Advertising Plan?

    Our Watchfire representative, Bob Klausmeier, presented the program to us.

    You already have a good deal of experience with digital. From an operator’s perspective, what do you see as the benefits of the program?

    If they are able to drive local small businesses to digital outdoor through their platform, some may want to work with us directly and could become long term clients. If they are REALLY successful, they may need to contract more slots.

    How much of a discount did you receive off the purchase price of your digital boards?

    We elected to commit for 12 months and I believe the discount was in the 6-7% range.

    I understand that the installation of the first structure in Memphis has been a challenge?

    Yes, the location is unique in that it is permitted and oriented to I-240 on the east side of town, but it is also visible from a primary route (Poplar Ave) controlled by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Because TDOT has a very strict interpretation on how vee’s are oriented, we worked over several months with them to approve our angles on the faces as they were oriented to I-240.

    When we installed the structure, we were given the thumbs up on the angle from TDOT. The following week, however, I got a call that they had received complaints about the view from Poplar and required us to re-orient the face not directly facing Poplar, which we did at considerable expense. Subsequently, they said that this modification was not adequate and we are now trying to come up with some kind of screening plan to get their approval. This face is shut down until we are able to work things out with TDOT.

    We are now operating the other face after having the City of Memphis lift a Stop-work order. That order was put in place until the City could scrutinize the site for violations. This effort was led by the Mayor which is what the Memphis Business Journals articles were about. They ultimately lifted the order when it was determined we were in complete compliance and we turned on that face.

    Is the installation now complete and how is your standing now with the City of Memphis?

    The ongoing problem, according to TDOT, is that further back on Poplar, you can also see the back face which would mean too much square footage, even though you could never read the other face. This part of their regulations baffle me a bit, because in South Carolina it is explicitly stated that you can construct a vee with up to a 90’ angle. We will continue to work in good faith with TDOT and the City of Memphis to get the other face in compliance, but are glad to at least be operating and bringing a little Grace to Graceland:-)

    Have you started working with Blip? Is it fairly simple to integrate their product into you systems?

    By the time we got the authorization to go live, the holidays were upon us. Our staff has been in communication with Blip for several weeks, getting familiar with their system. We expect to be fully engaged in January and I will be glad to get you a follow up to this question.

    Do you have more boards you will be installing on the Watchfire/Blip program?

    Yes, I am installing a double digital in Greenville, SC in January and we are committing to 12 months for one slot on each face.



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