Our new billboard campaign: When marketing is more than just marketing

Like most newspapers and local news websites, the Las Vegas Sun and lasvegassun.com are more than a little challenged when it comes to marketing.

And because of our unique JOA here in Las Vegas, running lots of “house ads” in our print product isn’t the best option for us. (Not that it would be our best option even if we weren’t in a JOA.)

So, as former Greenspun Interactive publisher Chris Jennewein and I were putting together our 2009 budget last year, we worked hard to keep some marketing dollars in there.

About three months ago, the first part of our marketing campaign debuted: Billboards.

I know that doesn’t sound very innovative, but I think we did billboards with a cool twist.

The main goals for our billboard campaign were to inform locals in Las Vegas about lasvegassun.com’s huge commitment to breaking news and to show local advertisers that we aren’t monkeying around and they should be doing business with us.

Yes, we did some “traditional” billboards. We have three billboards around the Las Vegas area that look like this:

Las Vegas Sun billboard

But the coolest part of the billboard campaign is having 18 digital billboards across the Las Vegas Valley that we update on the fly with our latest breaking news headlines.

And we don’t just update them on the fly. Our team’s longtime managing editor, Tim Richardson, literally updates these billboards from his desk in the Sun’s newsroom using a Web-based interface. We update them several times a day — and sometimes in the middle of the night.

Let’s look at some of Tim’s handy work:


Here is a look at one of our digital billboards after it was announced that the Las Vegas Sun had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize:

Las Vegas Sun Pulitzer billboard

In addition to promoting breaking news, we’ve also used the billboards to highlight our live coverage of big-time events in Las Vegas. Here is a look at one of our digital billboards during the weekend of the Pacquiao-Hatton fight:

Las Vegas Sun boxing billboard

All of this was no simple task. Chris Jennewein and our marketing folks had to negotiate with multiple billboard companies, and we even had to sign an indemnification contract to be able to update the billboards ourselves.

The results have easily been worth all of the difficulties.

To be fair, since we’ve launched our billboard campaign, we’ve had some of our biggest web stories ever, so our increase in traffic in that timeframe can’t be solely attributed to the billboards. All that being said, in the last three months, our traffic has increased 32 percent on lasvegassun.com. Potential advertisers have also taken notice.

But more than just helping with marketing, the billboards have served one of our organization’s other missions: To help inform folks who aren’t reading our newspaper. Or any newspaper. Or even turning on the TV for news.

It’s not often that you get to combine content with advertising in a way that also helps to inform the community, and this does that. And more importantly, it’s helping to establish our brand as a media organization that delivers frequent news updates, as opposed to the more analytical stories the community is used to in the Las Vegas Sun print edition.

The billboards put our content and brand in front of lots of new people every day. And they are constantly changing, just like the lasvegassun.com home page.

What’s also really great about the billboards is that the folks on the advertising side of our operation credit them with a lot of our recent success on the revenue side of things.

In a time when we have benchmarked everything, it seems to me that the Sun’s recent digital billboard campaign has helped us move the needle and accomplish some of our goals in the form of increases in traffic, revenue and exposure of lasvegassun.com.


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Dad. Journalist. Nerd. Music lover. Baseball fan. Puckhead.