Greg Callaham is an award-winning graphic designer with over 30 years experience in advertising and marketing whose work consistently receives national recognition for creative excellence. He runs Greg Callaham Graphic Design, a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based design studio specializing in outdoor advertising. He has designed over 10,000 billboards. Insider has used and can recommend Callaham’s design services. Insider talked with Callaham this week about billboard design.
Greg, how’d you happen to get involved in the outdoor industry?
I transitioned from newspaper to outdoor in the early 90’s as the art director for POA Acquisition Corporation’s Chattanooga plant. From the first day I loved the challenge of creating an impactful selling message within the parameters of good outdoor. It’s been in my blood ever since. I literally cannot take a vacation without critiquing the boards along the interstate.
What outdoor firms do you currently do business with?
I’m blessed to have outdoor advertising companies as clients all over the contiguous forty-eight states. Art requests and design proofs are handled via phone and email. Final art files are easily transferred to commercial printers via FTP services. And if the outdoor company doesn’t have a regular printer I can recommend one. It’s really pretty seamless.
Why should a billboard company use a design firm like yours?
First and foremost is experience. I understand the medium and know how to use it to an advertiser’s advantage. I have very reasonable rates that will enable an outdoor company to more consistently calculate their ROI on creative and production. And I have fairly short turnaround times. For some billboard companies I am their art department. For others I help with any overflow work they have and save them the cost of bringing an additional designer on staff. The bottom line is I’m a businessman who happens to be a graphic designer, and I know what it takes to build a successful long-term relationship with my clients.
What common mistakes do you see clients and billboard companies make when they design billboards?
The most common mistake I see is too many words. It’s so easy for an advertiser to buy this huge ad space and feel like they have to include everything thing they do so they get their money’s worth. Another common mistake is text that is too small or too thin. Usually, this is because the advertiser has corporate branding standards with which they must comply. The third one is split ad space on small boards. There simply isn’t enough room to do that and it shows on every single one. A lot of times these mistakes are unavoidable due to the advertiser’s circumstances. However, in each of these scenarios I give the outdoor company design options and suggest verbiage to convince the advertiser to lean on our expertise and allow the medium work to his or her advantage. Sometimes advertisers take our advice and sometimes they don’t.
Give us examples of a couple effective billboard designs along with your explanation for why they are effective?
Here are two examples that do a good job of conveying the selling message quickly and effectively. The Kia Superstore of Cleveland design uses bright colors and large text to grab the viewer by the retinas and let them know the price of a 2016 Soul. This ad displayed on a digital face and can be seen for miles both day and night.
The static vinyl for the Diamond Tower uses a larger-than-life diamond ring to gain the viewers’ attention and high-contrast text to communicate how easily they can successfully shop for the next jewelry-giving occasion. The word count on both is less than twelve.
Graphic Design USA, a national trade publication, honored Callaham for his work for clients Zimmer MedizinSystems, Hollywog and Memorial Hospital.
His brochure design for German-based company Zimmer MedizinSystems focuses on the Zimmer enPuls, which is a radial pulse therapy device used by physical rehabilitation professionals.
“The brochure not only conveys the expected features and benefits, but it also introduces the reader to a new therapeutic protocol,” Callaham said in a prepared statement. “That can be a tough hill to climb, and I’m really proud of the success this piece has enjoyed.”
The trade publication recognized Callaham for his work with Hollywog-which is a local medical device manufacturer-in two categories: logo design and product packaging.
He got two awards for print ads he designed for Memorial Hospital.
The Chattanooga native, who went to Lutheran school, said he knew at an early age that he wanted to be in the graphic design and advertising business.
After his layoff, he invested his severance pay into his business, which provides creative content for outdoor advertising, catalogs, product brochures, logo design, corporate identity packages, and a wide range of other advertising and marketing materials.
“Things kind of evened out,” he said. “My severance pay started disappearing, and the business started to take the place of my salary about the same time.”
And even though he started his business in a less-than-ideal economic climate, business has been strong, he said.
He’s a one-man business, works out of a home office and has built up his customer base through guerrilla marketing and word-of-mouth recommendations, he also said.
He said he feels lucky to be his own boss, to have the caliber of clients he does and to be winning awards.
He tells his children he makes a living drawing and coloring, and he feels like his life led him to experiences that gave him the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur.