Anyone who has driven through Williamsport has seen the work of Lamar Outdoor Advertising, and as traffic increases in Lycoming County the chance to reach the masses through billboard advertisements has become more valuable than ever.
"Our traffic has certainly increased, noticeably," said Lamar Vice President and General Manager Mike P. Beiter, who credits the booming natural gas industry for the increase in vehicles along local roads and highways. "There are new people on the market that need to know where to get things."
Outdoor advertising has become more appealing to local businesses with advances in technology allowing quick and easy changes to ads.
"It's evolved from the traditional billboards to the digital billboards, which are really a more modern and affordable vehicle for our customers," Beiter said.
Lamar installed its first digital billboard in Williamsport in 2005 and Beiter said the ability to immediately make changes makes this option ideal for business who want to get a leg up on the competition. An advertiser can announce sales and limited-time deals, announce changes to event plans or use a billboard to welcome a new employee.
"Everything's faster; everything's more immediate," Beiter said.
The technology associated with digital billboards has continued to grow, becoming faster and more efficient. Beiter said customers who want to visualize an ad on a billboard can stop into the office along Route 15 in South Williamsport and see a test of their digital design on the company's billboard right outside.
"We can display it right out there," Beiter said, adding that he sometimes likes to surprise visitors by displaying a welcome sign with their photo on the billboard when they come to the office.
Lamar never displays more than six businesses at a time on a digital billboard, with ads lasting six-to-eight seconds each for maximum impact. Advertisers can change their ads from a computer with Internet and even from a mobile device.
While Lamar is a national corporation, the Williamsport branch has a distinctly local connection, having evolved from Williamsport Outdoor Advertising, established in 1902. Over 90 percent of Lamar advertisements are local businesses.
In addition to advertisements, Lamar uses its billboards to support local nonprofits and promote public service.
"We feel blessed that we can help over 100 local organizations, or individuals, every year," Beiter said, citing Lycoming County United Way, Uptown Music Collective, the YMCA and the YWCA among the organizations Lamar supports.
In addition, he said, "We work locally with the police department and nationally with the FBI, to help capture fugitives from justice."
Beiter said 35 national cases have been solved thanks to tips from digital billboards.
Lamar also helps locate missing children by posting Amber Alerts and can even warn drivers of floods and other natural disasters through digital billboards.
"We can immediately make that viral," Beiter said.
While digital billboards only make up a small percentage of Lamar's business, with traditional billboards remaining the preferred advertising method in the area, Beiter is optimistic about the future of technology in outdoor advertising.
"The ability to change the message so quickly, within seconds... That's a real competitive advantage," he said.