Monday, July 16, 2007

Sign Up Today

Today I drove past a building under construction on the main street of my town’s business district. The crew was hard at work, building…what? I don’t know. There was no sign telling me who or what was coming to the neighborhood. Given the location, it must be a commercial structure, but beyond that, who would know?

Having spent more than 30 years in advertising and public relations, I always thought – and taught this as well – that a business should take advantage of every opportunity to distinguish itself from the competition. What better time to start than when a new building starts to rise… when people driving and walking by this hub of activity are naturally curious – and interested – about what’s coming to town. Yet I see so many new commercial buildings going up with no sign whatsoever.

It doesn’t take much. How about a sign that says, “Future Home of Fenwick & Jones, Attorneys At Law” or “Coming Soon – Main Line Lunch” or “Opening in December: Nature’s Best Health Foods?” Satisfy that consumer curiosity that’s been piqued by the construction and nourish that initial impression with your regular marketing as opening draws near. Don’t even wait for the foundation to be poured – let people know right after the first shovel of ground’s been turned. Get creative – make the sign a countdown clock or put a line in reminding people about a charity – Heart Walk, United Way, or the local volunteer fire company. Sure, once the building is finished, you’ll have a permanent sign; but by then you’ll just be part of the surrounding commercial landscape. Stand out now.

This doesn’t just apply to for-profit businesses; the new home for a food bank or community youth center also should get a head start on spreading the word.

I know: many localities have sign ordinances and there’s already a lot of sign clutter. Most of those ordinances apply to permanent signs, and if you’re creative enough, you won’t be adding to the clutter. It’s not like your immediate neighbors don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve already been through the planning commission, the zoning board and the town council, unless you just decided to start building with the hope that none of them would notice.

What you do see a lot at new construction is a sign trumpeting the bank that provided the money: “Another Project Financed by First National Bank of Somewhere.” It’s nice advertising for the bank, but what good does it do the new business owner?

So what’s being built on the main street in my town’s business district? It could be anything from a house of worship to a house of ill repute. I don’t know. Sign Up Today, guys!


G's Cottage said...

This is speculation based on local experience. They might be avoiding pickets and lawsuits. There is a big disconnect between city planners, the zoning board and residents sense of neighborhood. The strip, once a sleepy 2-lane now a bloated 6 lanes, stacked with development is a major site of picking and citizen political action groups.

Then there is the very pricey, open-air mall on the other side of town (hello, this is not southern California) that has ended up looking like a river front honky-tonk.

7sky said...

This is very true in some instances; most of what I've seen that prompted the entry applied to single lots in an already well-established commercial area or commercial-mixed.

Interestingly, I heard from a friend who lives in the same town and is knowledgeable about the goings-on and they weren't sure what was going into the building I mentioned.