Outdoor Companies Adopt Green Poster Tech

Say goodbye to a classic term in the out-of-home media business: “30-sheets.”

Also known as posters, the most common, smaller billboard product is getting an eco-makeover. Not only are the new eco-posters completely recyclable, they look better because they’re printed on one continuous sheet rather than 30.

As of March 1, the three largest outdoor companies, Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor, and Lamar Advertising–which represent 65 percent of the nation’s 220,000 poster inventory–no longer accept the old 30-sheet posters, which require “paper and paste” to install and contribute about 150 million pounds annually to the nation’s landfills.

The companies will print the next-generation posters on polyethylene flexx, the most commonly-recycled plastic in the world. Once the posters come down, they are recycled into
railroad ties, for which there is plenty of demand.

Eco-posters represent the biggest change to the outdoor product since the 1980s, when vinyl was introduced to replace pure paint and paper on bulletins, the largest billboard product. “This reinvigorates the poster [product],” said Rocky Sisson, executive vp of sales and marketing at Clear Channel Outdoor. “Not only is it recyclable, it maintains its visible
integrity longer.” The old posters only lasted 30 days; eco-posters last 90 days.

Jill Nickerson, vp and director of out-of-home at Horizon Media, started using the eco-posters for a few clients in January and liked the results. “The reproductive qualities were fantastic and they were able to post much quicker than using paste,” she said.

But like any major product change, this one literally has its wrinkles that need to be ironed out. If the eco-poster isn’t properly installed (think of stretching a canvas across a frame), the poster can wrinkle in places.

Kinetic, the largest buyer of outdoor posters, found that out via its recent field audit in Chicago. “The reality is that there is a learning curve for the vendors, and the advertisers pay for it in the short term,” said John Connolly, Kinetic COO. “More testing on both the material and application technique should have been conducted on a larger scale before refusing paper and paste in major markets.”

Outdoor companies believe wrinkling is easily solved. “It’s usually a result of inexperienced installation. Once the installer has been trained correctly it is easily remedied,” said Tony Alwin, Clear Channel Outdoor’s senior vp of marketing.

Eco-posters also cost more. The outdoor companies argue that since they last longer, the cost increase is minimal. But that’s only if the poster is up for 90 days. Most advertisers change copy more frequently. Connolly estimated that for a 30-day poster the cost is about one and a half to two times more.

“It’s a little more expensive, but the cost will drop and come down within a few years,” said Bobby Switzer, vp of operations at Lamar Advertising. “If you take the [cost of the] space and production as a whole, it’s a fractional difference.”

Installation problems and cost issues aside, no one in the business wants to go back to the old product. “Everyone wants to make this happen. Who wouldn’t be for a greener business?” Connolly said. “If it performs as designed, it will be a far superior product.”