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When you care enough ... say it with billboards -- Page 2

Keep in mind that you'll have better luck finding pilots who can fly banners for you than finding skywriters. "Aerial advertising is becoming a rare art form," says Stevenson. "There are probably fewer than 10 active skywriters like myself in the country."

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Full of hot air: You can't get the Goodyear blimp to advertise your personal message (it flies at large community events only, and doesn't accept special advertising), but you can buy the next-best thing: your own blimp-shaped balloon.

Companies like Arizona Balloon offer custom balloon shapes, including blimps, for every occasion you can imagine. For instance, you can order an 11-foot helium-filled blimp balloon with banners on both sides for just $725. Or you can go for the gusto: A 30-foot blimp balloon with banners will run you $4,286. Each balloon comes with a 120-foot tether, and you'll need to check with your local city hall to see if you need a permit for flying it.

Drive-by messages: Although billboards generally are intended as larger-than-life advertising aimed at weary commuters, they can also be a creative way to tell the world how you feel. Corey Shumway, general manager of Lamar Advertising's Oregon and Western Washington division, says one of his company's workers proposed to his wife several years ago via a billboard -- and fortunately, she said "yes."

Another example, seen near's Florida offices: a billboard exclaiming "Happy 40th Birthday, Darlene!" with an oversized photo of the birthday girl. (Hope she didn't mind the world learning how old she is!)

Billboard ads vary greatly in price. The larger the city and the more vehicles that pass a certain board, the higher its monthly rate will be. For example, Shumway says a billboard on a side street in a smaller Oregon town might run $1,500 per month, while a board along a major arterial in metropolitan Portland, Ore., could fetch up to $7,500. And it depends on how long you want it to remain. "Billboard ads sound like a fun idea to a lot of folks, but they're usually much more expensive than people expect," says Shumway.

If you're buying a billboard ad, be flexible about the location, advises Shumway. For instance, instead of getting your heart set on the one billboard your spouse sees every day just before she turns into work, map out her entire driving route, and be willing to buy a billboard ad anywhere along her commute -- you may get a cheaper rate.

Another budget-minded note: Contact the major billboard companies, such as Clear Channel Communications Inc. or Viacom Outdoor, and ask for prices for poster panels, which are less expensive than the higher-end stretched vinyl signs, says Shumway.

Even cheaper: a bus-bench or bus-shelter ad. These can cost less than $500 for a month, and you can select your target's favorite bus stop. Find sources in your local business directory under "Bus-bench Advertising" or "Transit Advertising."

Take me out to the ball game: For a die-hard sports fan, there's nothing more exciting than seeing his name flash on the scoreboard at his favorite venue.

Chicago's famous Wrigley Field, for instance, runs personalized messages on its center field message board during the fifth inning of every Cubs game. For just $25 (the proceeds go to Cubs' charities), you can buy a three-second message starting with "Happy Birthday," "Happy Anniversary," "Congratulations" or "Cubs Welcome." Call 773-404-CUBS and request the recorded information about center-field message board ads or visit the Cubs Web site.

Because the messages are so brief, you can't arrange to do a marriage proposal via the Cubs' message board. However, you can do the bended-knee thing in front of a crowd at other ballparks, such as Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. All it takes is a $100 minimum prepaid donation to the Red Sox Foundation for a center-field scoreboard message. You can also post the name of a Sox fan celebrating a birthday or anniversary on the scoreboard for a donation of any amount. For details, call 617-226-6000 or visit the Red Sox Web site.

See you at the movies: Another "showy" way to propose or congratulate someone is a movie ad. You've undoubtedly seen them: the slides that flash up on the movie screen before the previews. These ads are a great way to reach a captured audience with your dramatic message.

To get local rates for these ads, contact your selected theater; fees vary widely around the country. Some smaller theaters will work with you directly to get your special message up on the screen; larger theater chains may refer you to the centralized agency that creates its ads.

Sing, sing a song: If in doubt, there's always the tried-but-true option of a singing telegram, perhaps delivered by a gorilla in a tutu or an Elvis impersonator. At companies such as the 1800USAFlowers, you can choose from more than 1,000 different characters to deliver your musical message anywhere in the United States, Canada and a few other countries. Creative types can make up their own songs or special messages, but the folks at the New Orleans, La., firm can also provide the wording for you.

Caryl Eager, the company's owner, says each telegram presentation lasts from three to 15 minutes, depending on the content. Prices range from $115 to several thousand dollars, but most messages are in the $150 to $200 range.

However you choose to deliver your special message, Leah Ingram, gift and etiquette expert, suggests that you keep a few things in mind: "If you're going to make a public proclamation of some type, think carefully about the recipient. Make sure he or she is going to be comfortable with it," she advises. Ingram reminds people to be particularly cautious about announcing women's ages to the world -- as in Darlene's 40th birthday billboard.

Second, consider the long-term cost of any of these stunts. "If you think a really public wedding proposal or birthday message will become part of your family lore, a story that will be told over and over again, by all means, go for it, even if it's expensive," says Ingram. But if you're trying to outdo a friend or family member who always thinks of lavish birthday or anniversary gifts, save your money. "Competition isn't a good reason for something this expensive," she says.

Finally, advises Ingram, if you're going to do a wedding proposal in front of a crowd at the baseball game, "for goodness sake, make sure she's going to say 'yes,' before you do it. You don't want to be the guy who gets his picture in the newspaper for the outlandish wedding proposal. … that is rejected."

Teri Cettina is a freelance writer based in Oregon.

-- Posted: July 12, 2005




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