What One Person Can Do About...Offensive Billboards

by Randy Sharp

Increasingly, offensive billboards are popping up in towns all across America. Particularly, strip clubs, X-rated video stores and some radio stations use this medium to promote their business with scantily clad photos and offensive language.

There are two ways to address offensive billboards that contain sexual content: Industry approach and local approach.

The industry approach

The Outdoor Advertiser Association of America (OAAA) has adopted a "Code of Ethical Conduct" which states:

"We support the First Amendment right of advertisers to promote legal products and services, however, we also support the right of outdoor advertising companies to reject advertising that is misleading, offensive, or otherwise incompatible with individual community standards, and in particular, we reject the posting of obscene words or pictorial content."

AFA and other pro-family groups are continually working with the OAAA in encouraging billboard companies to build stronger policies to protect communities against offensive advertising.

We are grateful that OAAA president Nancy Fletcher is an outspoken advocate against pornographic billboards and has strongly enouraged members of the association to refuse them.

If you would like to send an encouraging note of appreciation, you may write:
Ms. Nancy Fletcher - President & CEO
Outdoor Advertiser Association of America
1850 "M" Street N.W., Suite 1040
Washington, DC 20036
Email: nfletcher@oaaa.org  

The local approach for offensive billboards

The most common billboards are those placed by the local rock radio stations or adult oreinted business. History has proved to me that attempting to appeal to a business owner's common sense of decency will result in failure. If these business owners had morals, the billboards would no be up in the first place.

You must be prepared to dedicate yourself to winning this battle directly to the billboard company. It will require hard work, but it is winnable.

Contact the company who owns the billboard and ask to meet with the manager or salesman who approved the billboard for your community. It may be a national company like Lamar or CBS Outdoor, or a local or regional company. Most billboards have the company's name on the sign. In your face-to-face meeting, ask for the billboard to be removed in cooperation with the OAAA "Code of Ethical Conduct" and local community standards.

Keep in mind that the billboard company and the business have a legal binding contract, thus the billboard manager may be obligated to keep the billboard up during the life of the contract. If he agrees with you, it may be a few months before the board can be removed. You should also ask him to agree to not renew or sign new contracts with sexually oriented businesses in the future.

If the manager refuses your request, you can take steps necessary to make sure your message is heard loud and clear.

Most national billboard companies (Lamar, for example) leave the decision of accepting pornographic billboards to the local or district office manager.

Here's how I did it:

A Lamar office in nearby Columbus, MS, placed an adult business billboard in my Tupelo, MS, hometown. I called the Columbus office and learned that Scott Smith (not his real name) was the salesman. In several phone conversations, Mr. Smith would not agree to remove the billboard. After two months of trying, I looked up his home address, created a flyer, recruited a few friends and put a plan into action.

I sent a fax,
similar to this one, to Mr. Smith's office on Friday, just before noon. Accompanying the fax was this custom-made flyer.

Needless to say, by the time I returned from lunch, I had a voice mail from Mr. Smith! Evidently, he didn't like the idea of his work decisions bringing embarrassment to his wife and family.

When I returned his call, Mr. Smith told me the work crew were on their way to remove the billboard that very hour! In addition, Mr. Smith said the billboard would not be replaced within 20 miles of Tupelo if I promised to cancel my appearance in his neighborhood. I told him it was a deal, but if someone in another town asked me how I did it, I'd share my resources with them.

I hurried across town, wanting to get some pictures of the crew at work. By the time I arrived, the crew was already gone and the billboard had been changed to a legitimate business advertisement.

If you have an offensive billboard in your community and would like to take action, send a report to Randy Sharp at rsharp@afa.net. Please be as specific as possible in your report.

NOTE: Your right to contact and encourage businesses to act responsibly is a protected right for any citizen. In the past, some business owners have tried to intimidate citizens by threatening to sue them. The AFA has access to legal teams ready to defend your rights and immediately respond to those who threaten citizens.

Randy Sharp is the Director of Special Projects for American Family Association. His shares his personal experiences in helping you rid your community of pornographic and offensive billboards.