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Media, sign companies plan for political traffic

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Politicians know they need to be seen. They need to have their messages in bright letters, their names in bold print; they have to connect with the public in the quickest, most efficient way possible.

And, there is a large group of businesses that can help them.

People in the sign business in Springfield know when the campaigns are about to begin, and they are ready to put in long hours to get the extra revenue the campaigns often bring. Several area businesses are now in the thick of the business the Nov. 3 general election will bring their way.

Randy Dye, of Cherokee Sign and Screenprinting, said this is the third election during which he has worked diligently on getting the politicians' business. The company makes decals, yard signs and larger, rigid signs for candidates. During election years, campaign business represents about 20 percent of the company's overall business, Dye said.

Cherokee's business is not just contained in the Greene County area, however. The business makes signs for neighboring counties and has made signs for candidates as far away as Douglas County, Dye said. The company is one of the most active in the political sign business locally and has served between 75-100 candidates this election year, Dye said.

To handle the extra volume during the period immediately prior to the election, Dye said the company's four employees simply put in extra time.

"We're a small operation, but we go the extra mile to get these jobs done during election time," Dye said.

The kinds of signs Dye deals with are usually four feet by eight feet or two feet by eight feet, or are the smaller yard signs.

Carter Clarke at Lamar Outdoor Advertising deals with the biggest of signs billboards. Most candidates use the smaller billboards, called posters, which are 12 feet by 24 feet, are composed on paper and can be changed easily. The larger billboards Lamar offers are painted 14-foot by 48-foot bulletins. Most candidates do not use the bulletins, Clarke said. Lamar is serving about 11 candidates this year, and the total billing for the billboards for those candidates represents about 10 percent of the company's monthly revenues, Clarke said.

Lamar sets its political rate a year in advance of the campaign season and sets political outdoor advertising at one rate, Clarke said.

"It does take some planning ahead, but the political business is very good for us,"

Clarke said.

Walter Clark, of Clark Signs, is a Springfield campaign veteran of sorts. A former political candidate himself, Clark has been hand-painting signs for candidates for more than 30 years, he said. Clark concentrates on the big signs, the two-by-eight and four-by-eight signs, and his signs are mostly made of plywood, the "real sturdy stuff," he said.

Clark is predominately in the hand-lettered sign business, but he also does some silk screening. In the past, he has made silk screens for candidates who were short of money and helped them to use the screens to make their own signs.

Over the years, Clark has saved some of the signs of more memorable candidates, he said. Clark is known throughout the area for creating signs for Democratic candidates, but he has penned a few for Republicans, too. He has had calls from as far away as Atlanta, Ga., for his work.

Altogether, Clark has been in the sign-painting business for 49 years. His involvement in the political arena is, he admits, somewhat of a happy accident.

"It didn't start out to be the biggest part of my business, but it wound up that way," Clark said.

Another outlet for candidates who want to spread their message is the public airwaves. Radio and television stations spend quite a bit of time gearing up for the candidates' commercials, and the situation is unique because of the requirements federal law places on the stations.

Television and radio stations have to offer candidates their lowest unit rate for airtime, said Gary Whitaker, general manager of Springfield 33, KSPR-TV. As a result, the political ads are not a big revenue generator for the station, Whitaker said. For general elections, the stations have to begin offering the ads 60 days prior to the election.

"It's usually a break-even or even a losing situation for us," Whitaker said.

In addition, the station has to inform its regular advertisers that the spots they want may not be as readily available during heavy campaign times.

Mike Scott, of KY3, said the station does have to comply with the regulations, but that it also has the opportunity to generate a substantial amount of revenue in a short period of time as a result of the campaigns.

"The political advertising is financially beneficial to us even with the rate structure," Scott said. KY3 does quite a bit of political advertising, and Scott said he attributes that to the quality of the station's news broadcasts.

This month, our largest client will be the political ads. There's a lot going on in this arena for us right now," Scott said.

Though Whitaker reported the year as being light since no large races, such as a governor's or presidential, were on the upcoming ballot, Scott said the activity has been heavy for a year that did not have a major race going on.

Radio stations must follow the lowest unit rate rule as well, said Bart Brown, assistant to the general manager of Sunburst Media. Like the television stations, which have to forecast where the demand for the political ads will be and monitor their scheduling, Sunburst's radio stations have to prepare for the demand that their stations, which are all limited inventory stations, will face.

"We have an inventory management system that is computerized, so we can forecast inventory demand 26 days in advance. That makes it easier for us to prepare for events like the campaigns," Brown said.

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