Wednesday, November 17, 2010

LUS needs to reach customers, and learn how to fight in the marketplace.

The Lafayette sign ordinance that Cox Communications (in)famously used to stick it to LUS Fiber recently is more than 6,800 words long. Signage, it turns out, isn’t a simple topic. The ordinance delineates about two dozen types of signs subject to restriction — billboards, directional signs, flashing signs, illuminated signs, monument signs, pole signs, readerboards and so on.

It was passed three years ago mainly to address the proliferation of so-called snipe signs on telephone poles at busy intersections — the ribbed, vinyl and coated-cardboard advertisements for tax preparers, vitamin elixirs (remember Mona Vie?), lawn services and the like. Snipe signs are defined by the ordinance as signs “made of any material, which is attached to a tree, pole, stake, fence, or other object, and which contains advertising matter that is not applicable to the use of the premises upon which it is located.”

The ordinance stipulates that one must get approval from the Planning, Zoning and Codes Department to put up any kind of sign in Lafayette; the fee city-parish government charges for removal is $100 per sign.

One wonders how many hundreds of dollars worth of these signs are gathering dust in a closet now that LUS has caved in and stopped offering them to new customers.

On a recent morning jog through my neighborhood, Oaklawn, I counted nearly a dozen signs similar in style to the LUS signs: scofflaw painters, hooligan plumbers and misdemeanor-minded roofers, depraved families hailing their children’s accomplishments on the playing field or the cheerleading squad. In a few weeks the nefariously pious will post the “Keep Christ in Christmas” snipe signs in their yards. They always do.

Clearly the sign ordinance isn’t enforced. But it’s hard to imagine that LUS was giving out the signs knowing the ordinance isn’t enforced. It’s easier to assume that LUS Fiber — a commercial venture run like a public utility by engineers and bureaucrats — didn’t consider whether this marketing idea was illegal and didn’t anticipate Cox challenging it.

The flap over the yard signs appears to be symptomatic of a broader failure by LUS to fully anticipate the many hurdles it would face in rolling out this new enterprise. As this week’s cover story indicates, LUS Fiber isn’t near where it anticipated it would be in terms of commercial success. Like many of its supporters, the LUS folk may have assumed that once the legal hurdles were cleared a few years ago, they could make a bee line from concept to reality. That hasn’t exactly been the case.

LUS needs to get its message out, and clearly yard signs are not going to be the way to do it.

My humble suggestion would be for LUS to do more advertising in The Independent, both our print and online versions. We’re pretty focused on the city of Lafayette, which comprises our main readership and LUS’ sole customer base. Plus, we’re a free pub. Advertising pays our salaries, of which we’re duly enamored.

Cox routinely buys ads and inserts in this publication. We thank them for it.

In a way we can also thank LUS Fiber for Cox’s ads. I would wager that Cox’s advertising budget in Lafayette — not to mention the sweet deals it offers to new customers — has increased substantially since some competition entered the market.

Judging from the tone of the comments on the ind.com related to our story last week about Cox threatening to sue LCG and LUS over its yard signs, many were aghast and offended that Cox would bully LUS over some silly signs.

But bullying this is not; it’s showing up at a knife fight with a damn knife. LUS showed up with good intentions and a spread sheet. The knife usually wins.

The flap over the yard signs appears to be symptomatic of a broader failure by LUS to fully anticipate the many hurdles it would face in rolling out this new enterprise.

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