Some of Columbus’s most memorable wallscapes have been executed by Orange Barrel Media since it opened for business seven years ago. For OBM’s founder and president, Pete Scantland, the work is a labor of love.
The Upper Arlington native claims he’s always had a fondness for signs− particularly creative, one-of-a-kind signs. Around the time Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman published his downtown business plan, Scantland decided wallscapes would be a great way to add color and a sense of vibrancy to the area and the rest, as they say, is history. In fact, OBM has successfully expanded into six other markets.
“We’ve expanded to Denver, Washington, DC, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, and hope to launch two markets in California this year and next,” says Scantland. “We’ve really gotten to these markets based on the strength of our work in Columbus. In Denver, for example, they modeled their wallscape ordinance and creative standards on what we did in Columbus. We’re also starting to see that cities are increasingly receptive to doing this, as it not only creates a new privately funded revenue stream for the city, but also can create a sense of place and animate the streetscape.”
To learn who has provided Scantland with invaluable counsel, how he handled a lawsuit that could have spelled the end for his fledgling company, and which three “fundamentals” he tries to focus on consistently, read our interview with him below.
The Metropreneur: What’s your creative process like? Does a client bring you ideas, do you bring them ideas, a little of both?
Pete Scantland: A little of both. It’s generally a really collaborative process, usually between the brand, their advertising agency, and us. Our clients already know how they’re positioned from a branding standpoint. However, in many cases, they aren’t quite sure how to do something that works with us.
We try to help take their brand to the next level and do something that works in public space, and that has some combination of humor, beauty, whimsy, and is unlike what they’ve done before. Also, depending on the market we’re in, we have restrictions over what it looks like. In Columbus, for example, the amount of text on the mural is limited to 5 percent. So, with limited exception, we can’t just run their regular advertising campaign.
The tradeoff with the city is that they give us permission to do something that is 20 times the size of a standard billboard. In exchange, we need to design something that the public enjoys looking at. The more enlightened marketers understand that their needs are really aligned with the city. They obviously want people to look at their advertising and to like them.
[M]: What were you doing professionally before starting OBM and how has that influenced the way you do business?
PS: I was working at an advertising agency. I worked there for my first two years out of college, prior to starting Orange Barrel Media. My experience there, and also my college experience as an art major, really gave me a good background to understand both the business side and the art side of what we do today. Of course, I made a ton of mistakes over the years −and still make them− and there’s nothing that really prepares you to become an entrepreneur.
[M]:What resources –books, websites, organizations− were the most helpful when you were working to get OBM off the ground?
PS: The city’s Office of Downtown Development and Mayor Coleman’s administration were invaluable, as was my partner, who provided the financial resources to do this. We started in 2003 BT −before Twitter− and I don’t recall that there was that much on the Internet relevant to what we were doing. I think that was before Walker [Evans] conquered the world with ColumbusUnderground.com.
[M]: Did you turn to any local role models or mentors for advice or input?
PS: Yes. First, my partner, Jeff Mahan, and his son Joe, who was my best friend in high school, who were kind enough to not only stake us financially, but also to provide invaluable counsel over the years. They’re the perfect partners, the first qualification of which is having a lot of money to lend until the business began making some. The second person who was invaluable was Harrison Smith, of Smith and Hale LLC, who sadly passed away two years ago.
[M]: As you know, the Ohio Department of Transportation sued OBM in an effort to get your company to remove its wallscapes and prevent it from erecting additional ones. The two-year legal battle was ended by a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge in June 2006, but I’m sure it impacted your business or, if nothing else, your peace of mind. How did you keep the company together during that time?
PS: Well, at the time it wasn’t much of a company; it was just me! We had just put up our first three wallscapes and ODOT called to invite me to a meeting. I showed up at the meeting and there were five lawyers sitting in a conference room. They said we needed to take everything down and handed me a document that they wanted me to sign agreeing to do it.
Prior to putting the wallscapes up, we had looked at the law and ODOT had no jurisdiction. The whole thing was really driven by my friends at Clear Channel, who didn’t like having a new competitor. The whole ordeal was really a difficult time for us, as we were really a fledgling business and had little revenue to speak of. Fortunately, our clients were great and when I walked them through the legal issues, they agreed with my interpretation and decided to stay with us.
The whole David versus Goliath aspect of the thing really attracted a lot of media attention and, looking back on it now, it was really probably a positive for us. At the time, it didn’t feel that way. Since we had no money, we had to do the lawsuit really inexpensively. Harrison Smith, bless him, helped considerably, largely pro-bono, and he also talked Mike Close and Mark Melko at Wiles, Boyle, Burkholder & Bringardner Co. LPA into doing it at charity rates.
We did a lot of the research ourselves. I actually hired a third year law student at Ohio State, so we had free access to Westlaw. He became our second employee and, shortly thereafter, we hired our own installation and production crew so that we could do all of our construction in-house.
We won the first suit and ODOT actually appealed. We won at the appellate level 3-0. It may have gone to the Supreme Court, but then Ted Strickland was elected and he appointed a new ODOT director, who put an end to the madness. I would guess ODOT spent more than $1 million prosecuting the whole thing and I became more well versed in zoning law than any art major in America.
[M]: This might seem like an unnecessary question, but what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business owner and how did you overcome it?
PS: We face new challenges every day, so it really depends when you’re asking. We try to focus on the fundamentals as best we can: do great work, hire great people, and make sure you’re always selling!
[M]: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?
PS: Far and away, it’s the whole act of creating something out of nothing. We like to think that we’ve changed the whole look of downtown Columbus in a positive way and are well on our way to doing it across the country.
To learn more about Orange Barrel Media, visit OrangeBarrelMedia.com.