So here’s what I’m what thinking up. Let’s put up 1,000 of these 5320 signs up around the fountain in Lower Bricktown. Then let’s invite Mike Morgan for a discussion on how sometimes the TV weather guys really mess things up with bad forecasts. And let’s be sure to time this to coincide with the drinking binge for cancer thingamajig event, hoping it returns to Bricktown after all.
Those of you who are longtime readers of this blog are smiling right now. You know that this sign discussion is just another example of how I try to take the discussions I hear on the street and bring them onto this site. I don’t do rants. I’m not engaging in personal attacks. But I am questioning how things are done, why things are done, and how some actions impact downtown and our community.
It’s that simple gang. This isn’t the newspaper – it’s a NewsOK blog, where, yes, I do dwell a lot more on matters related to downtown than we would either in print or even on NewsOK. To say I “obsess” on downtown is like saying Darnell Mayberry “obsesses” about the NBA on his blog.
Well yeah. Big surprise.
I think much of this discussion has been a good one. But please folks, stay civil. Not once have I personally attacked Tim Berney or the folks at VI Marketing. I’ve not done any name calling. I have asked questions that clearly annoyed Tim and his client. That’s OK. And if some of you don’t like his answers, that’s cool too.
Personally, I’ve attached to this topic for one reason: I love the irony of a state agency using taxpayer money to put up illegal signs that more taxpayer money will be used to remove. That’s the ultimate man-bites-dog story. Sorry if you folks at VI don’t appreciate this. But it does get one to asking “What in the world were you thinking?” And now we know.
So one last tidbit on this … for now.
The city spent about $90,000 removing these illegal yard signs in 2010.
That appears to be the case, as shown in this photo …. which was posted on the 5320 Facebook page.
At least that’s the impression I got this morning with Julie Cox-Kain when it came to the question of whether or not she agreed with VI Marketing’s Tim Berney that the yard signs placed along city streets and in city parks don’t hurt the community’s appearance. I asked this question several times over, and each time Cox-Kain, chief operating officer at the Oklahoma Department of Health, recited the message of their campaign, which, while it’s an answer, it’s an answer to a question I wasn’t asking. After making it clear she wasn’t answering my question, it became quite apparent that she’s not willing to say they do detract from community appearance.
The Department of Health is paying VI Marketing $350,000 in federal tax dollars in this campaign to urge people to do more to take better care of their health. Great message. We can all do to get in better health (and as some of you have pointed out in different ways, me included). But does the message justify breaking the law? Taxpayers are paying for illegal signs that they are then paying to have removed. Does that make sense?
And yes, that’s the top reason I’m writing about this. It’s not unusual to see these illegal signs in campaign seasons. I don’t know of anyone who says “Hey, I saw that sign for Fidel Castro (or pick any name), and because of it, I’m going to vote for him for Labor Commissioner (or pick any office).” But you do hear from plenty of people who think they’re road clutter and detract from community appearance. And that’s the reason that was cited by the city council in passing these laws and doing sign pick-up.
So why did I write about it this time? Well, again, it’s not my first time on this topic. And what makes this occasion unique The difference this time is it’s taxpayers who are paying to put out these signs (the health department with federal tax dollars), and it’s taxpayers paying to remove them (the city’s general fund). The other question I keep asking is, where does the inclination to break the law for a message campaign end? Posters pasted onto bridges? Graffiti?
Cox-Cain said she knew the campaign would include VI Marketing printing up 3,000 yard signs, but added it was not the health department’s intent to break any laws. And whereas Berney said the illegal signs would stay up through the duration of the campaign, Cox-Cain said this morning VI Marketing is being instructed to immediately remove the illegal signs (the ones along Broadway are gone; Councilwoman Meg Salyer had them removed).
Final note. I talked to Kristy Yager, spokeswoman for the City of Oklahoma City. She said that VI Marketing is on standby for more contracted work with the city’s water/wastewater utilities department, and that she does not see the stance of Tim Berney/VI Marketing in regard to violating the city’s ordinance would play into the firm getting further work from the city. The utilities department is overseen by the Oklahoma City Water Trust, which is chaired by Ward 4 Councilman Pete White. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last night, Tim Berney called me. He wanted to know if my writings indicate I have something personal against him.
The answer is no. I just ask annoying questions and write things some people don’t like. And in this case, it’s not the first time I’ve put the spotlight on illegal signs.
He noted I wrote three blog posts last night about this topic. Yes, I responded. And I’ll write more tomorrow.
And indeed, here I am. Did you know that violators of this sign law can be fined $500? Now, the question is, will this happen with VI Marketing and/or the Oklahoma Department of Health? Do such fines require that somebody file a complaint first?
Tim compared breaking this law to speeding, and asked if I ever speed. Yes, I replied, but not intentionally. Just last month I did 40 miles per hour on Broadway between NW 13 and NW 18 not realizing that despite being five lanes wide, the speed limit is 30 miles per hour. And I was stopped by a police officer. I was ticketed for $161. My wife was unhappy. I can’t buy that blue tooth I was wanting for my new cell phone and I’m rather poor this month. I paid the price for breaking this law. And I have no intention of going a mile of 30 on Broadway again.
I said this to Tim. He went back to the whole question of whether this is personal, and also showed a lot of pride in his firm’s work.
Here’s another tidbit for you: the city picks up an average 30,000 of these signs every year. Think about that. What sort of resources are being expended by the city to deal with these signs, which VI Marketing’s Tim Berney calls a legitimate form of promotion (He refers to the law as a “gray area.”)
Do these signs hurt the city’s appearance? (Tim says no). Or is this something that helps the city – or to put in Berney’s perspective, does it just show that Oklahoma City is now a “world class city”? If the city decided to give up this war on illegal signs, what would kind of appearance would we have to present to executives visiting, looking at whether to expand operations in our town? (We know of at least two companies making such visits this month)
Final question: using the logic of Tim Berney and VI Marketing, would it be OK to promote a campaign with plastered posters? Graffiti? Which laws are OK to break, and which ones aren’t?
Tim Berney called me back. First things first. Who paid for these signs? You did. You the readers did. It’s your money. And the Oklahoma Department of Health, using your federal dollars, paid VI Marketing “six figures” to do this 5320 campaign.
Berney knows these signs are illegal in city right-of-ways and parks. About 3,000 of these signs have been placed throughout the state.
His response to them being illegal? Politicians do it every campaign season. And, quote, “If Oklahoma City is to be a major league city, it will see more of this gorilla (my spelling) marketing.” End quote.
Berney does not believe these signs reflect badly on a community’s appearance. He noted the campaign has several corporate partners, including the Deep Fork restaurant group and area Burger Kings.
Berney indicated his firm will consider doing this again for future campaigns, and despite laws against placing such signs in parks, public right-of-way, he called the issue “a gray area.”
For what it’s worth, my inquiries began after I was contacted by a reader who noted these signs surrounded the Oklahoma City Beautiful park sign.
The signs are now gone. Berney did not offer to have them removed. Instead, it was Councilwoman Meg Salyer, who has a history of picking up weeds, trash along Broadway, who had the signs removed from the Broadway park.
VI Marketing shows its other clients downtown have included St. Anthony Hospital, Advanced Academics and deadCENTER Film Festival. The firm has also done work for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism.
If you wish to share your thoughts on this matter, you can do so by emailing Tim at email@example.com.
CC: Councilwoman Meg Salyer, Oklahoma City Community Foundation director Nancy Anthony.
Tim, I’ve been hearing from readers that they are upset about signs placed along public right of way, and especially in park along Broadway that the Oklahoma City Community Foundation has worked to keep nice over the past several years. You can see the signs in the attached photo.
Doing some digging, I discovered the following:
VI Marketing & Branding
125 Park Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
Domain Name: 5320OK.COM
So here are my questions:
- Why is your firm placing paper signs in a city park?
- Are you aware such placement is illegal?
- Do you see any irony with these signs surrounding one placed by Oklahoma City Beautiful declaring this area an “adopt-a-park” cared for by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation?
- Do you believe that placing paper signs illegally in city right of way and public parks is an effective means of promoting a client?
- Do you care about the appearance of downtown and the city?
- What does your firm do to support the goals and objectives of Oklahoma City Beautiful?
- How do you think these signs effect the city’s appearance to visitors?
- Will your firm be collecting and cleaning up these signs at any point?
I look forward to your response. Sincerely, Steve Lackmeyer
I have suspicions about which marketing/advertising firm is behind these 5320 signs. Let’s cut to the chase: signs like the ones shown in this photo ARE ILLEGAL. And I’m hearing from a lot of folks downtown who are none too amused about what they see as nothing more than litter in their neighborhood.
At some point, with all the money being spent on this campaign (which employs some of the oldest, most tired tricks in the book), names will come out. And to my readers, I will make this pledge: I will endeavor to not just provide the name and contact info of the client, but I will also provide the name and contact info for the folks who thought placing ILLEGAL paper signs along a public pocket park. And yes, I did frame this photo in a way to also show the OKC Beautiful sign hovering above it all.