Wild Postings, Gentrified

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For bands without budgets, wild posting is the perfect medium for self-promotional barking. A key to the copy room at work can deliver hundreds of sheets of free publicity. The police have often turned a blind eye to people slapping up posters haphazardly, but such tolerance could hardly endure in these Show-me-the-money times. Creativity has learned that New York's Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering selling permits to post ads on construction site fences, at least the ones under its jurisdiction. According to a report in Crain's New York Business, "that includes not just the DOT's own projects, but all sites that cover sidewalks and spill over onto city streets."

In a town where obtaining information from City Hall is about as painless as having one's teeth pulled with rusty pliers - sans novocaine - it's unsurprising that DOT officials refuse to talk. Los Angeles-based NPA, an outdoor advertising firm that has reportedly teamed up with the DOT to negotiate with site and scaffolding owners for poster space, is similarly tight-lipped. But insiders say the DOT's alleged new-business efforts may make sense. Exploiting construction sites is in keeping with the city's desire to cash in on public spaces, whether they're bus stops, phone booths, or the huge vinyl ads unfolding from multi-story scaffolding.

Still, the building sites hold extra appeal - a special kind of street credibility. "I don't care what you're trying to say, if you slap it on the side of construction site, it's cool," says Rick Robinson, CD at Infinity Outdoor. "It's the environment thing that people want - they want to feel dirty, they want to feel risky. The fact that the ad's not going to be there forever, the public knows that. That's what's exciting."

With big money at stake, the previous `occupants' of construction fences - political activists, artists, filmhouses, clubs, bands - are getting crowded out. "Outdoor advertising has been the big medium for music for the last eight years," says James Cruze, VP-promotions at Violater Records. "But posterboarding is essentially over. When you get the fines and the street teams are getting arrested every night, well, it isn't very effective. In Atlanta, don't even try it. L.A. is cracking down big time."

In the past, vans spit out street teams hired to slather cities with posters. Now, the vans primarily stick to special events, where the teams distribute stickers and other merchandising. "We've really scaled down wild postering," said Rob Love, director of rap promotion at Island Def Jam, "starting from about a year ago."

There's a perceived advantage to taxpayers, of course. "Buses, station platforms, subways - a lot of the advertising done in urban centers helps subsidize the municipality," said Diane Simeone, EVP-marketing at the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. "The appeal of wild posting is that it's unorthodox, and that's where its success and interest lies, particularly for trendy, harder-to-hit markets. I think it's a very attractive, practical solution for what otherwise would be ugly sites."

Of course, one person's unorthodoxy is another's blandness. Mainstream advertisers such as IBM and American Express have discovered wild posting. These days, they pay as much as $4,200 for 1,000 posters. Too pricey for bands, artists, and activists, who'll just have to get more creative about promoting their events - or face the City's wrath.

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