Last Updated: November 25, 2020

It’s a beautiful day at the beach. The waves are crashing (but not too hard), the sun feels great, and it’s a perfectly clear afternoon.

You gaze into the sky, heave a deep breath to take it all in. As you do, a small plane buzzes by, gaining your attention. A banner trails behind it advertising a local seafood restaurant. Sounds appetizing. As you reflect on your hunger, you remember that you saw that name on a few of the billboards driving here, as well as on one of the benches stationed at the back of the beach.

Deciding that you might as well eat seafood at the beach, you travel to the local restaurant, hoping that its impressive outdoor advertising efforts won’t fall short of the quality of its food.

What is outdoor marketing?

Outdoor marketing, quite simply, is marketing conducted outdoors. Billboards—whether print or digital—comprise about 65 percent of all outdoor marketing, while signs on buses and public benches are also popular locations. There are almost as many venues for outdoor marketing as there are physical locations, but as the above example illustrates, even the sky isn’t immune from outdoor marketing.

Samples of Outdoor Marketing

  • billboards (print and digital)
  • transit advertising (buses, subways, taxis, etc.)
  • commuter displays (airports, bus stops, etc.)
  • information kiosks
  • NASCAR vehicles
  • airplanes—and airplane banners
  • dry-cleaning bags

As marketing in general becomes more ubiquitous—and thus, more competitive—outdoor marketing is also becoming more innovative, and thus has been a common target for guerrilla-marketing tactics. In fact, in October 2011, the Direct Marketing Association staged flash mobs on the streets of New York to promote its free outdoor marketing seminars—and needless to say, significantly improved its event registration numbers.

Who implements outdoor marketing?

Although it’s a common strategy for local advertising—and in fact, roughly seven out of every 10 outdoor ads promote local businesses—outdoor marketing is effective for national and international companies as well. And, as we discover every late spring and late fall, outdoor marketing is widely popular in political campaigns, whether the candidate runs to the city council or the U.S. presidency.

Outdoor marketing also produces a huge revenue stream for media companies. For example, CBS Outdoor, a division of the CBS Corporation, sells and services more outdoor advertising than any other company in North America. The company coordinates nearly 550,000 outdoor media displays in the U.S., including more than 100,000 billboards.

Where is the Money Going?

In comparison to more popular online advertising, outdoor advertising is often a better “bang for the buck”. Companies regularly employing outdoor marketing often report operating margins in excess of 30 percent. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), founded in 1891, is the leading trade association for the outdoor advertising industry, with nearly 800 member companies.

For what kinds of customers is outdoor marketing effective?

Although not restricted to this goal, outdoor advertising works particularly well in attracting local customers—or often, in the case of billboards, visitors to a certain city or resort area. While some people find billboards distracting, four out of five people still consider billboards to be useful and informative, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

Even though billboards comprise nearly two-thirds of all outdoor advertising, the field (or wall, or bench) is wide open. Especially in urban areas, public-transit commuters are prime targets for outdoor marketing campaigns — marketers frequently advertise products or services on buses, bus stops, subway walls, and taxis.

While the direct impact of outdoor advertising is harder to measure, the sheer visibility of the effort ensures some degree of return on investment. One Los Angeles-based bus bench company, for example, claims that an advertisement on one of its benches will be seen by 35,000 to 50,000 people each day. Even 1/100th of a percent response, then, could be enormously effective. (See also Street Marketing)

How is an outdoor marketing campaign developed?

For a local company, marketing begins with the sign on the front door. Therefore, before a business even opens their doors, the use of a creative local marketing agency and/or graphic designer is a crucial first step. A logo that shows potential customers who they really are, and why they’re different from the competition will attract people before the business casts their marketing net wider. (See also Brick-and-Mortar Marketing)

Five General Rules for Outdoor Advertising

  • Keep the message simple.
  • Use an equally simple, attention-grabbing visual.
  • Include the company logo and contact information.
  • Leave your outdoor ad up for a minimum of 30 days, so customers are repeatedly exposed to the message.
  • Advertise several locations, to increase your reach (and again, repetition of the message).

Researching target customers—and their locations, or their routes and/or methods of travel—is key to outdoor marketing. Whether consumers visit daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonally, a business’s success is driven by repeat business. Therefore, companies must solicit customer opinions, whether it’s via a comment card or a face-to-face discussion. What drew them in? What keeps them coming back?

Businesses leverage that information to expand their influence in the community. If a business is local, they might look for ways to support neighborhood events. They might also place signs on parks or bus benches, or on the jerseys of teams they sponsor.

Depending on the business’s industry, outdoor marketing methods may change. Billboards may be a better go-to method for attracting tourists driving into a resort town, while small bench advertisements might be sufficient for local restaurants.

What career titles work with outdoor marketing strategies?

Marketing Managers

Marketing Managers develop outdoor marketing campaigns tailored specifically to that business or company’s neighborhood and/or audience.

What do they do?

What type of salary should I expect?

  • Marketing Manager
    Median annual pay: $116,010
    Top 10%: $187,199+
  • Account Manager
    Median annual pay: $87,650
    Top 10%: $186,630+
  • Graphic Designer
    Median annual pay: $43,500
    Top earners: $76,910+

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • evaluate their clients’ position in their market, and establish measurable goals for improving their position in the local community, or in emerging market locations
  • select multiple strategies for promoting the business or company, at an investment level appropriate to that business
  • develop outdoor advertising, as well as other incentives and communications customized to the particular market being appealed to
  • develop and inculcate an understanding of the market, demographics, streets, retail and commercial centers; and leverage the advantages of outdoor media in relation to the company’s competition
Education and Skills

Marketing managers will have at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business management, sales marketing or a related field. Those who manage their own marketing firms (commonly used at the local-business level) will have substantial experience running single accounts, and may specialize in a particular type of business (such as start-ups). Education preparing them for this career includes classes in marketing, market research, statistics, consumer behavior, and business management.

Account Managers

Account Managers coordinate outdoor advertising campaigns for multiple clients, including small and medium-sized businesses.

What do they do?
  • maintain existing accounts and actively develop new customers, identifying advertising needs/goals and establishing schedules for promotions
  • oversee the design of branding (logos) and signage tailored for the local community and/or visitors to the community
  • purchase space for local advertisements, including billboards and bus stops
Education and Skills

Advertising account managers typically require a bachelor’s degree in marketing, advertising, or journalism. Other important college courses will include visual art and graphic design, persuasive communication, market research, and consumer behavior. Before getting their own accounts, managers will have at least a year’s experience in outside sales, including researching, designing and/or purchasing of ads. Account managers often get their initial experience as an intern between (or during) semesters in school.

Graphic Designers

Graphic Designers create the visual stimulation in outdoor advertising, maintaining consistent branding across all marketing platforms.

What do they do?
  • design advertising and signage, from logos to billboards (both static and digital), and all marketing pieces in between
  • assist with the scheduling and supervision of print and digital billboards, changing creative schedules as directed by clients, and reserving digital space
  • keep track of advertising design trends, and use those features to adapt or upgrade existing and future outdoor marketing efforts
Education and Skills

Most graphic designers involved with outdoor marketing have at least a bachelor’s degree—usually in art, computer science, or marketing—as well as an understanding and proficiency in outdoor design. Classes in these areas, as well as in computer science and other aspects of art and design, will help a graphic artist gain a better perspective of what consumers (and employers) are looking for. In addition, internships and volunteering of design services are great ways for an artist to build a portfolio prior to entering the field.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

A marketing program will help you to develop both the communications and management skills you’ll need to create an effective outdoor marketing campaign. In addition to taking specific classes on various forms of communication (including print, audio, and video), you’ll also learn how to identify communications channels that different market segments best respond to, improving your ability to target specific consumers through specific methods.

Additionally, a marketing program will train you how to better understand your customers and their needs. Courses in market research will teach you how to segment consumers and identify market opportunities. Courses in consumer behavior will train you to predict how customers will respond to different strategies, as you seek to promote your (or your client’s) business. You’ll also learn the basic skills required to coordinate and manage teams in an organizational structure, as well as how to network with other leaders, businesses, and organizations.

If you’re interested in learning more about how a marketing program can better your understanding of outdoor marketing and other advertising methods, request information from schools offering degrees in marketing.