RPís sign of the times
What are the data and rules applied to run the big Veale electronic billboard on Commerce?
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By Jud Snyder  November 22, 2013 12:00 am

Tom Jackson runs a one-man business office but there’s no doubt what he’s selling has more people looking at it than any other business you can think of, except where a TV screen is necessary.

This is the new digital illuminated  billboard on north Commerce Boulevard where State Farm Drive ends. It’s huge, 14-by-48 feet and is owned and operated by Veale Outdoor Advertising, a Santa Rosa company who has been in the billboard sign business for 30 years.

This latest in digital communication with its high-tech LED illumination has already attracted a lot of visual attention. That’s its job. It sits on Rohnert Park land, and Veale has a contract with the city for special rate inclusion advertising for RP events.

It’s also regulated by state rules. People have been asking how it works. You know, what are the mechanics to getting placement on the digital sign? This called for a chat with Jackson in his modest suite of offices on Cleveland Ave. in Santa Rosa.


‘It can be complicated’

His office is dominated by two charts covering a wall. It has all the information he needs to list all the start times, duration of displays and when they end. 

“The charts need constant attention,” said Jackson. “It can be quite complicated, for there are so many variables I’ve got to work in with so many different clients.

“The standard time frame is six seconds. State rules give us a minimum of four seconds and a maximum of eight. The average driver sees the sign for only two to three seconds. We’re not allowed to use the flash-bang one second after another so many TV shows and movie previews rely on, for they’re considered too distracting to motorists according to the state. They also do not allow animated billboards.” He paused to make a correction on his wall chart.


Can make instant changes

“So we have 10 messages per minute and some of our clients buy more than this for multiple messages per minute. 

And with computers doing the work, we can make almost instant changes. For example, the city or any client can buy time for weeks or months, and if they have special events at Spreckels theater or the Callinan Sports Center or winery or wherever, we can immediately plug them in and take them off when they’re obsolete.”


2.9 million drivers a month

The Veale company relies on Transit Automobile Bureau (TAB) for basic data on freeway traffic throughout the state. “The last survey they did had 144,500 people traveling north daily on the freeway and slightly less traveling south. I think they figured something less than two people per car…I’m not sure. TAB said this amounts to 2.9 million drivers per month in this part of Sonoma County, one of the most highly trafficked areas in the county. They plan to do another survey in January or February next year. This will include the additional casino traffic.”

Jackson has been talking with Station Casinos about buying time on his digital billboard. “But they told me to hold off for now. They’re doing mostly TV, big daily newspapers, some ordinary billboards and they really don’t need us right now.”

Veale has the only LED-equipped digital allowed in Rohnert Park. There’s a citywide moratorium on these electronic message centers for at least a year. This means they won’t be allowed on Golf Course Drive West near the casino.


Graphic designers for words

Jackson works with either individual clients or with advertising agencies. “It’s about 50-50. We also have our graphic design specialists who can help design the messages, like Fleege Associates or the Engine is Red agency.”

The basic rule, of course is ‘less words the better.’ Too many advertisers want to put too many words in their messages, which is difficult to grasp when you’re doing 60 mph north or south on the freeway.

“Right now, the northbound side is sold out until the middle of January and I expect to see the southbound face sold out by the end of November,” Jackson added. “We have a waiting list and can quickly plug someone on either face. Changes can happen quite often, people drop out after a month or two but there’s always someone waiting to get on board. We also do public service spots for that’s part of our contract with the city.”

His office is one of those not-too-common businesses where there’s practically something going on every minute: phone queries, change orders from clients and updating his wall charts.

Jackson was born, raised in Indiana and moved to California 25 years ago. He’s single, 6-1 in height, husky and is raising two children from a previous marriage. He’s available by phone at 575-3752 or by cell at 481-7461 or Tom@vealeinvestment.com.

“I’ve worked with billboards in Indiana and here in California for many years, but I’ve got to tell you, these new digital boards with LED lighting and computer-driven are really really catching on.”

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