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Firm Capitalizes on Traffic

The plan is: put some trucks on highly trafficked roads during time of peak congestion. On the sides and back of those trucks, put ads.

Billboards are prohibited in either Loudoun or Fairfax county, but putting ads on vehicles is not, so Terry Saeger and his wife, Lisa, started Brite Moves. "I saw that there was clearly a market for outdoor advertising," Saeger said.

Saeger and his wife, Lisa are co-owners of the new company. Their lime-green trucks prowl the roads over the course of the day with ads on each side and the back. In the early morning and evening hours, the ads are backlit to increase the visibility of the signs.

Saeger, who lives in Potomac Falls in Loudoun County where the truck are garaged, had worked in sales and marketing, but after his company was bought by another one, he decided to move on. He and his wife contacted a business broker who connected them with Brite Moves, a company in south Florida.

The Saegers acquired exclusive rights to operate their business in the Washington, D.C., area, and their trucks hit the roads in late August.

"Its one of the worst businesses we could have come to the region," said Chris Carney, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club. "We have the third worst traffic in the nation, and the trucks have no transportation reason to be on the road. I would hope that motorists would be irate."

SAEGER WAS concerned about the business plan at first. "I was a little hesitant from a regulatory perspective," he said. Billboards violate Fairfax County's sign ordinance. Likewise, new billboards are not permitted in Loudoun County, existing signs are grandfathered, said Loudoun County Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman.

The truck, however, does not violate any ordinances. "It's not defined as a billboard," said Mike Congleton, Fairfax County's deputy zoning administrator for zoning enforcement.

While portable signs are also prohibited, the truck does not qualify as one of those either, Congleton said. "If they're on the road and moving around, there's nothing we can do about that."

If the truck stops, and is parked within the road's right of way, however, then it would be violating the ordinance, Congleton said.

But a stopped truck is not what Saeger wants. "We expect our vehicles to be moving at least 50 minutes out of the hour," Saeger said. Moving trucks reach a wider audience, and Saeger says that ads on them can make 1.5 million impressions per month.

Of course, keeping moving can be its own problem on Washington's congested roads. Saeger does not think that his 22-foot vehicles will contribute to that traffic congestion.

He notes that the roads are already handling tens of thousands of vehicle trip per day. Since he hopes to reach a fleet of 20 trucks, the company will be a relatively small percentage. "The impact of the trucks is not substantial," he said. "I don't believe we're going to be adding to congestion."

He said that his company does plan to keep the trucks, which cost just over $100,000 each, off the road on days of inclement weather citing the hazardous conditions, and the fact that the ads will be less visible under those conditions. "We definitely do not want to be a hazard or a nuisance," Saeger said.

He also plans not to run the trucks on "Code Red" days Ñ when the region's air quality is considered to be unhealthy.

Air quality in the region, however, is generally not good, Carney said. "We already have serious air quality problems, here," Carney said.

There has only been one "Code Red" day this year, however, only a few more and the region would have lost federal highway funding.

EACH OF THE truck's sides has a 6 foot by 10 foot space for the ad. The back is 6 by 6. Saeger would not disclose the rates, instead calling them "competitive." He did note that the back commands a premium price.

Each face allows for rotating ads. A given sign will stay up for eight seconds and then switch to another. Saeger says that each of the truck's three panels can accommodate five to six ads. Some advertisers also purchase a package deal where they will buy space on each side, and the ads will stagger, so that a given business has its ad visible more often. "Most of our advertisers want to go for the triple-play wrap," Saeger said.

"I think this will have your attention," said Jeff Dick of Main Street Bank in Herndon. The bank assisted in financing Brite Moves, and is now an advertiser. "It's a novel approach to advertising. We've definitely been talking to people who have seen the ads."

"I think it provides a pleasant distraction," Saeger said of his ads. He does not think that the distraction will be dangerous, although it would require motorists to jot down a phone number or Web address while driving.

Saeger points out that businesses have long placed their logos on the sides of delivery trucks, and buses now carry similar ads. "I think that what we're doing is no different, from that perspective, from the Metro bus with an ad on the side," Saeger said.

County police agree. "I don't think that's a problem," said Officer Edward Orellana, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Police. He noted that if a motorist were to get into an accident and admit to having been looking at the truck, they might be cited for failure to pay full-time attention, Orellana said.

Saeger points out that the ads are most effective in slow moving traffic when a driver would have more time to react, and in fact the truck routes are targeted to run in slow moving traffic. Initially, they have no plans to operate the vehicles on the Toll Road or Beltway, Saeger said.

The trucks run on one of eight set routes, so advertisers can target locations. Advertisers also have the option to focus on time of day, for example, a restaurant might want its ads to run during the evening rush hour when people are deciding what to have for dinner.

Advertisers pay on a weekly basis, and can start with 13-week contracts. Trucks can be rented for special occasions or events. Additionally, a company could essentially purchase the services of an entire truck, rather than sharing space with other advertisers. In this case, they could even dictate the route and times of day, Saeger said.

Some advertisers, however, need not apply. Saeger says he plans to keep the ads upscale and not run anything risquŽ Ñ not just the content, but the business itself. "We want to maintain above community standards," he said.