By Marc Raybin, Cardinal Communications Strategies
“Our approach has always been methodical, but late last year we saw an opportunity to ramp up our digital presence by more than 50 percent with the catch being we had to complete the entire project in only one quarter to get it done by the end of the year,” says Charlie Miller, Burkhart’s third-generation chief executive officer. “We had to convert eight digital billboards in winter weather conditions where temperatures typically fall well into the negative degrees and wind whips across the plains at dangerous speeds.”
After management greenlit for the company to spend $1.2 million of its own money for the installation and conversion of the digital billboards in October 2017, the team had only until the end of December to clear every legal hurdle in the various counties, order the machines and get them running. Think that is a short window of time? Now consider the billboards were not ordered until Nov. 17th after all of the permitting was finally granted by municipalities.
“We had a very short timeframe and many moving parts all the way through – it was ambitious,” says Robert Miller, vice president of operations, through a smile that belies the pressures from just a few short months ago. “Luckily, every day that we had scheduled a lift for the digital boards the wind was down to fewer than 10 miles-per-hour and we did not have to fight Mother Nature.”
With a mixture of gumption, detailed planning and a little bit of luck, Robert oversaw a production process to install and convert all eight outdoor digital billboards at the very end of Q4. He says this was a highly coordinated effort where everyone knew what was at stake and pulled together to get the job done. All eight new billboards joined a network of 13 already installed, as well as more than 3,000 bulletins and posters throughout the territory, and were operational by Dec. 28.
“The company has always been forward-thinking, dating back to when Charles Burkhart founded the business nearly 55 years ago” says Brad Mart, a managing partner of advisory firm BridgePoint Co., who works closely with Burkhart. “Focusing on the future is part of the family’s DNA and management today realizes the future of outdoor advertising is in the digital board space.”
In the last 10 years, digital’s share of out of home advertising has nearly quadrupled, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. Today, there are 7,800 digital billboards in America, accounting for more than 21 percent of the category. In fact, the medium grew by 18 percent in 2017, one of only two advertising media channels to expand during that timeframe.
These are impressive numbers and one could not blame Burkhart for wanting to go all-in for digital as soon as possible. To be sure, while the company sees the likely future of digital billboards, the executive management team will make sure Burkhart remains true to its core business operating model of taking deliberate steps.
“I think our slow-and-steady approach to conversion is smart and has yielded good outcomes as far as site selection and actual performance,” says Chris Pajakowski, Burkhart’s president. “Moving that way allows us the opportunity to understand our adoption rates in the 38 counties we cover all the while attaining a deep understanding of the medium and passing those key learnings along to our partner advertisers.”
Another important part of Burkhart’s operating model includes providing significant community benefits. In addition to employing the local workforce, the company leverages its digital billboards to work with charitable organizations, as well as federal and state agencies.
“We have participated in the Amber Alert and Crime Stoppers programs across the state a number of times already using our digital billboards where timing and location are vital,” explains Pajakowski. “We are very happy to help with this effort and it is just a great technology for us to have locally.”
As the company moves forward with further digitization at a practical pace, executives at Burkhart are excited for what the advancing technology will bring.
“Digital billboards have certainly had a positive impact on the out-of-home advertising industry as a whole,” explains Sara Miller, vice president of technology and chief information officer. “I think it will continue to grow for Burkhart.”
If you are traveling along the highways or in the cities throughout Northern Indiana, don’t be surprised to see more stunning, eye-catching and colorful digital billboards. While Burkhart will continue to move in a thoughtful manner, expansion is coming.
“We think the advertiser earns a positive return with our new machines that typically translates into new business,” explains Charlie. “We will continue to leverage the power of this highly targeted advertising tool to optimize how we serve our clients and local businesses.”