Advertising to generate revenue

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the Municipal Marketing Ordinance to the City Council on Oct. 31 that would create new advertising outlets around the city with the goal of generating $18 million in new revenue for the 2013 city budget.

The ordinance calls for two initiatives to bring in revenue: the implementation of 34 digital billboards on expressways and advertising on almost 400 BigBelly trashcans downtown, according to an Oct. 31 press release issued by the mayor’s office. The city will split all revenue with advertisers.

The billboards would do more than simply provide an advertising platform, said Justine Fedak, chair

of the advisory committee overseeing the ordinance. They would also allow the city to display public service announcements.

“[This] digital sign network [ensures] communication on a day-to-day basis for both city public service messages as well as private advertising,” Fedak said.

The initiative could be an innovative method for the city to raise funds, according to Tony Karman, a member of the advisory council.

“From an independent constituent’s perspective, it is extraordinarily innovative for a city to own a digital network such as this one,” Karman said. “The opportunity for the city to derive [a] significant amount of revenue annually over the life of this contract is incredibly forward-thinking.”

The new billboards would also generate far more revenue than the 1,300 non-digital boards currently in place, Fedak said.

“The [non-digital billboards] generate less than $1 million a year in revenue,” she said. “This ordinance had to complement the architectural integrity of the city but also provide the revenue-generating stream we need to protect critical city services.”

According to the press release, a projected $154 million would be collected during the proposed 20-year contract.

According to Karman, the ordinance would provide the city with the the means to distribute information citywide in an emergency.

“If we had a storm [like Sandy] in Chicago, the billboards could be used to send out evacuation information or something similar,” Karman said. “It’s not just billboard advertising. It’s a safety network.”

The committee has not yet fielded opposition to the ordinance, Fedak said, but there were several obstacles to overcome when drafting the proposal.

“One of the things we were very concerned about is not creating any programming that would be perceived by residents of Chicago as defacing beautiful aspects of the city,” she said.

Committee members were mindful of Chicagoans’ concerns when determining billboard placement, which has not yet been finalized, Karman said.

Lee Bey, executive director of the Chicago Central Area Committee, said he believes digital billboards will improve Chicago’s landscape.

“These digital billboards would allow the city to remove the unattractive billboards that currently pepper the skyline,” he said. “It’s a more modernized and progressive option.”

According to the press release, the Municipal Marketing Ordinance coordinates with Emanuel’s cultural plan for Chicago by displaying local artistic achievements.

“Discussions are already underway within the arts and culture community on how we can best maximize and extend the impact of this digital network,” Karman said in the mayor’s press release. “This one is a huge win-win

for everybody.”