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CNY Mobile Billboards takes advertising to the streets

By Journal Staff

Date:

SYRACUSE  —  You could say that Derek Zehr traffics in advertisements. 

Zehr is the operating partner of CNY Mobile Billboards, a Syracuse–based firm that rents out space on billboards mounted on the back of trucks. The billboards can reach territory not covered by other advertisements, Zehr says.

“You can’t throw us away and you can’t turn us off,” he says. “You can’t stop us unless there’s a roadblock.”

Advertisers often turn to CNY Mobile Billboards to promote events such as Syracuse University football games and the New York State Fair, according to Zehr. The company has also advertised for large restaurant chains such as Quaker Steak and Lube as well as political campaigns — its first client was the 2010 congressional campaign of Ann Marie Buerkle, Zehr says.

Zehr launched CNY Mobile Billboards in October 2010, along with four other partners. He declined to name his partners, saying they prefer to remain in the background and act as a board of directors while he manages the day-to-day business affairs.

The firm started with two trucks that each carry a pair of 10-foot by 20-foot billboards. Then at the end of the summer of 2011, it added a box truck that can display three smaller advertisements: two 6-foot by 10-foot ads on the sides and a 6-foot by 6-foot panel on the back.

The box truck has a slightly different role than the two other trucks, which are typically deployed driving up and down streets, according to Zehr. Instead, the box truck is designed to be parked at an event. CNY Mobile Billboards will then rotate the advertisements the truck displays at the event.

The company houses its trucks in 2,500 square feet of leased space at 706 N. Clinton St. in Syracuse. Its headquarters is a 500-square-foot office it leases at 1112 E. Fayette St. in the city.

CNY Mobile Billboards typically has six full-time employees and six to eight part-time workers, depending on the number of ad campaigns it is taking part in at one time, Zehr says. About seven or eight of those employees are part-time drivers, while the remaining employees make up the company’s sales, marketing, and design team.

For some advertisers, the company also organizes “street teams” to hand out flyers that match ads on its mobile billboard trucks. Street-team size varies depending on an advertiser’s wishes, but the teams are typically temporary workers, Zehr says.

Zehr would like to expand the company, but he does not have any hiring targets. CNY Mobile Billboards will add new drivers if it purchases another truck, he says.

And the company eventually wants to expand its fleet of trucks, according to Zehr. Each truck costs between $30,000 and $40,000, and CNY Mobile Billboards’ timeline for adding trucks will be determined by its revenue growth, he says.

He declined to share the company’s revenue total for 2011. Zehr has a goal to double revenue this year. He says he isn’t aware of any other mobile billboard companies based in the Syracuse area, so his firm only faces indirect competition from stationary billboards and other forms of media like radio or newspapers.

“I think we complement other types of advertising,” Zehr says. “For example, Dunkin’ Donuts is a huge customer. If you’re listening to the radio and you hear a Dunkin’ Donuts ad, and 10 seconds later you see a billboard truck driving by, and 30 seconds later you’re driving on [Interstate] 690 and you see the same stationary billboard, it’s building brand recognition.”

CNY Mobile Billboards has been successful winning business from national advertisers and large chains, according to Zehr. It now wants to reach out to smaller, local companies, he says.

The mobile-advertising firm often travels outside of the Central New York market for advertising campaigns, Zehr says. It has driven to New York City, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, as well as Rochester and Albany, he says. In addition to its trucks, the company also offers advertisers the option of parking a fixed-position, 6-foot by 12-foot trailer in lots for special events.

Zehr acknowledges that mobile-billboard campaigns can be controversial — drivers sometimes have to deal with rude comments or gestures from people when a truck carries a political billboard, he says. The company’s drivers are instructed to be professional if anyone ever approaches them to complain about an ad campaign, and Zehr says he tries to avoid carrying extremely contentious advertisements.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt people’s feelings,” he says.

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