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Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em, Billboards Shout It Out : ‘Hold Your Breath,’ Motorists Told on Interstate 8

Times Staff Writer

“Hold your breath, count to 50, then turn right,” orders the billboard greeting motorists driving West on Interstate 8, just past the Waring and Mission Gorge exits.

Although the message--which refers to Pacific Nissan--might be a new ploy designed to catch a motorists’ eye, the billboard itself isn’t.

Gannett Outdoor and Foster & Kleiser, San Diego’s top two competitors in the field of selling billboard space, say business is booming despite a four-year-old San Diego City ordinance that prohibits new billboard construction and restricts billboard relocation.

Space All Sold

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After a sluggish first-quarter, Gannett has sold space on each of their 700 billboards in San Diego County through September, said general manager Tom Malinoski.

“Our salespeople are out playing golf until the end of summer. Then we start for Christmas. It’s nothing to see Christmas ads before Thanksgiving anymore,” Malinoski said.

The best billboard locations are near heavily traveled freeways. And San Diego is in high billboard demand because of its younger, auto-traveling population, industry experts said.

“Most San Diego freeways are good, but I think I-8 has the best traffic and proximity of tourism with the businesses, restaurants, motels and hotels located there,” said Ed Dato, public affairs manager at Foster & Kleiser.

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San Diego is also considered a test market for advertising, one of more than two-dozen cities cited for its balance of various socioeconomic and ethnic groups.

Because of San Diego’s “balance,” advertisers will buy boards from Gannett and Foster & Kleiser in San Diego rather than their Los Angeles affiliates, said Malinoski.

It costs more than $3,000 a month for a 14-foot-by-48-foot billboard from either Foster & Kleiser or Gannett.

The billboard message will be relocated every 60 days if an advertiser buys a board for at least four months, according to Matt Butler, an account executive with Foster & Kleiser.

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Some consumers take billboards personally. For example, a National City woman was offended by one of 15 Gannett-donated billboards promoting the San Diego Opera’s upcoming drama, “A Killer Season.”

The board depicted a woman holding dagger dripping blood. After calling Malinoski to complain, the National City woman telephoned her pastor and her assemblyman.

” . . . you’d think I killed the sacred cow or something,” Malinoski said.

The billboards were taken down soon afterward, not because of the woman’s complaints, but because the board’s 30-day expiration date.

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Without doubt, the prime billboard clients are cigarette and tobacco companies, Malinoski said. Other clients include automobiles, restaurants, liquor, local banks, beverages, motorcycles and local radio stations.

Billboards, Malinoski claims, are less expensive than newspaper advertising.

The billboard code has prevented new boards from being constructed since July, 1983. However, if the billboard property is leased or sold, outdoor advertisers can erect a new sign elsewhere.

The ordinance was adopted in 1972 and sparked litigation between Metromedia (which owns Foster & Kleiser) and the City of San Diego which lasted 10 years.

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Gannett Outdoor has been in business in San Diego for about 50 years under the corporate names of Cordtz Outdoor and Pacific Outdoor, which was eventually sold to Gannett Outdoor in 1978, according Malinoski.

Foster & Kleiser has been in the business for about 70 years.


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