How NOT to Market Your Business: With Illegal Signs

Ah, spring in Virginia.  The dogwood trees.  The azaelas.  The illegal signs.

Illegal Signs in the Right of Way: A Blight on Our Community

You’ve seen them, I’ve seen them, and oh, how I hate them.  The little (or big) signs stuck in the grassy medians, in the grassy, public areas between the sidewalk and the road, in empty lots, and everywhere else. Or lashed or stapled to utility poles or lamp posts.

I have seen advertisements for community theater productions, weight loss solutions, kitchen cabinets, dog walkers, and more.

They’re illegal.  Yes, they are.  Not just ugly.  Illegal.

They detract from the beauty of our community.  But even worse, they’re distracting to drivers, so they are also unsafe.  That’s why they’re illegal in Virginia.  If apprehended, the fine is $100 per sign.  The only way you can legally post a sign on a right of way in Virginia is by getting a permit from VDOT.  And those permits are generally only extended to entities like churches and for things like billboards, where those are permitted.

There is disagreement about whether the political signs are illegal.  They are posted without permits. While both parties agree they are excessive, VDOT appears to have said Yes, they are illegal, while the Commonwealth Attorney‘s office has said, No, they’re not advertising, so they’re not.

My view: SO illegal. SO tacky. SO distracting. SO hypocritical! How can we elect lawmakers who are lawbreakers?

And what about all those realtor signs?  Some realtors may legally post these signs without a permit in the public right of way, but plenty of realtors also disobey the law by posting illegal signs that do not meet the exemption requirements, or by adding illegal elements, such as balloons.  Just check out the action between Merrifield and Nutley Street on Lee Highway and you’ll see what  I mean.  That makes their whole industry look bad.

What Can We Do About Illegal Signage in the Community?

Can’t I just remove the signs?

NO.  Ironically, although these signs are considered “litter” by VDOT, it may be illegal to remove an illegal sign in Virginia.  At least, it appears to be.  There really isn’t a statute about it.  The law is unclear, but well-intentioned people have been prosecuted in the courts.  So, tempting as it is, would-be sign rustlers, beware!

Not that VDOT hasn’t considered using citizens and volunteers to remove these signs.  The only way a citizen can legally remove the sign is to get authorization from the Commissioner of Highways.

It’s a real problem. Illegal actions persist, because there isn’t the budget to prosecute offenders and remove the signs.  But cost-effective alternatives, like citizen clean-up corps, aren’t considered, either.  Even the Adopt-a-Highway instructions don’t address the collection of illegal signs.

Well then, can I report the offenders?

YES.  Call VDOT’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-367-7623 around the clock.

How can I legally raise visibility for my business or event?

One word: PR!  Send press releases, sponsor events, and upload photos to social media sites.  Purchase affordable print advertising in local community newspapers, like the Falls Church News Press, and even in church bulletins and school newsletters.

And invest in quality, legal signage for your place of business.  That’s the way to do business in Virginia.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on May 10, 2011, in Marketing Tips and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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