"Promote your company/product/event here"... & here... & here - Wiltshire Council is getting into advertising

Written by Tony Millett on .

Last month you may have spotted a banner flying from one of the lampposts outside Waitrose in the High Street.  It was promoting the Devizes Arts Festival.

This enterprising piece of community promotion was arranged by the Festival with Wiltshire Council - who own the lamppost.  All the Festival organisers had to do was complete an application form and pay for having the banner put up - they also, of course, had to pay the costs of making the banner itself. 

The location for the banner had to be surveyed to check highway clearances and the structural safety of the lamppost.  Wiltshire Council made no charge for the use of their lamppost. 

Such free use of lampposts and other Wiltshire owned property will not last long.  And the future costs and the ways community and local charity events can advertise themselves are in some doubt.

With ever further decreases in funding from the government, Wiltshire Council is increasingly looking to other ways to fund its services.  The latest of these is 'third party advertising' - that is not advertising their own services, but providing advertisement sites which can be sold for posters and banners promoting  companies, products and events.

After a scrutiny committee's investigation into the idea, the Council have produced an 'Advertising Policy' and aim to make £150,000 this year to help close its plus/minus £26million funding gap.  But it has ambitions to make increasing sums in future years from this new policy.

We have seen, from time to time, advertisements on the back of Wiltshire Council parking tickets - though paying to park may not make most people all that receptive to advertising messages.  But this new venture is on a very different scale: 

"The Council has a substantial asset base, including buildings, livery, street scene facilities such as lampposts, roundabouts and digital channels. These assets provide the opportunity to reach a wide range of audiences across the county."

Examples from Council documents: messages on County Hall’s big screen…Examples from Council documents: messages on County Hall’s big screen……and roadside banners…and roadside bannersSo we can expect to see advertising and sponsorship messages on Wiltshire Council staff uniforms and vehicles and at their campus and hub buildings and leisure centres.  The committee report quotes Dorset Council raising £150,000 a year from its 81 sponsored roundabouts.  

 Wiltshire Council is sure it has an audience that will appeal to advertisers: "The council has enormous audience reach and interacts with every Wiltshire resident through the delivery of its services.  The council's buildings are community spaces benefitting from high footfall; some in the thousands (Five Rivers in Salisbury averages 2,500 visitors per day)." 

To raise the amounts the Council hopes for in the future, they are talking about investing in potential sites - for example erecting billboards on land they own. 

The Council recognise they do not have the skills to administer this new policy - let alone do the copywriting - and will contract it out to a private advertising company. 

Marlborough.news has spoken to one former advertising executive who believes   that to give the council an income from advertising of £150,000 in the first year, an agency would need to sell at least £500,000 of advertising.  This would cover their staff, travel round the county, site surveys, putting advertisements up, maintaining them and taking them down again - and giving the agency a reasonable overhead charge and profit.

The Policy lays down a number of broad rules advertisers will have to abide by.  Advertisements that will not be allowed include those promoting tobacco, pay-day loans and money lending, gambling, misuse of alcohol, charity appeals and those that 'appear to influence support for a political party/candidate.' 

Advertisements 'must not bring the Council into disrepute' - which some advertisers may consider is a two-way street.  So we won't be seeing banners advertising car repairs in these terms: 'Fed up with Wiltshire's roads? Get your suspension mended by our expert mechanics.'

As most advertisements will, by the Council's definition, be in public places, they must also be sensitive to children.   The Council will reserve the right to refuse advertisements and to 'remove advertising without reference to the advertiser.'

The devil will, of course, be in the detail - and depend on the small print of the Council's procurement contract with the advertising agency. 

Community banners on London Road railingsCommunity banners on London Road railingsSt John’s banner on Wiltshire propertySt John’s banner on Wiltshire propertyFor example, will events organised to raise money for a local charity be banned? Will they come under the 'charity appeals' prohibition?  If so, will charities no longer be allowed to promote their events on roadside railings like those at the London Road/Salisbury Road/George Lane mini-roundabouts - railings owned by the Council. 

There are many problems with this sort of advertising.  In Marlborough the police used to take down banners placed beside traffic intersections on the grounds they distracted drivers and posed risks of accident.  With fewer police about that no longer seems to be a problem. 

Some of the Council's advertising plans will involve planning permission. The Oversight Committee report cited an English council that had agreed 'a large advertising contract and then its planning department refused permission for the relevant sites.' 

What might this mean for Marlborough?  The town has just one billboard - beside  the London Road near the river. 

The High Street has very few lampposts - most of which are quite well hidden.  The two near Waitrose would certainly be targets.

Advertisements at the Leisure Centre would not, of course, impact on the town centre.  But how far the Council would go in imposing banner adverts on railings, beside roads and in its car parks, is as yet an unknown. 

However, with planning consent for any advertisements relying on the say-so of Wiltshire Council's planning staff and councillors, the Town Council may have to face up to having even less of a say as to how the town looks.