Pirates of the Carribean ad on the side of a Big Blue Bus driving up Pico Boulevard on Friday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Local transit officials are trying to work out a deal with Culver City’s bus company to take over their advertising arm for a cut of the profits.

Currently Culver City Bus does not have an advertising program, choosing instead to use space on its 52 coaches to build brand recognition for the company and, in turn, expand ridership, said Art Ida, Culver City’s transportation director.

“This would be a new venture for us,” Ida said. “With money being tight right now, we have to look at all sources of revenue. We’re in discussions with [BBB] now, trying to get an understanding of their program and then make a determination on whether or not to go forward with [City] Council approval.”

Ida nor BBB officials would disclose how much Santa Monica would receive from the proposed deal as it has not been finalized.

Standard commission rates for advertising sales representatives can range anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent, according to various sources.

Taking over Culver City’s ad sales is one strategy BBB officials are considering as part of a new advertising initiative to generate more revenue in the face of budget cuts. Revenue generated by ads on BBB coaches last fiscal year reached roughly $1.7 million, an increase of 251 percent over the last decade when BBB took control of selling ads after an independent contractor failed for three years to generate a pre-determined number of sales and revenue, said Big Blue’s Dan Dawson, who oversees the advertising program.

In addition to raising revenue (the goal is to increase ad revenue by 10 percent each year), Dawson is looking to diversify BBB’s advertising portfolio, which current relies heavily on Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

“Because so many of our clients are focused on movies, they all have the same schedule so during summer movie season, we’re blown out of the water,” Dawson said. “There is a waiting list six months in advance. But then January comes and it’s sort of dead. The inventory grows and that means we’re not getting as much revenue as we could. By expanding our client base, we can fill those holes.”

One way to do spread the word about BBB advertising opportunities is to place ads in various mediums. BBB recently purchased a $4,800, full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter. The BBB used what Dawson called a “soft ad” to congratulate an advertiser — New Films International — on 30 years of success in the movie industry. The issue where the ad appeared featured an article on New Film. It was the first print advertisement the bus company has purchased in the last 10 years to promote the advertising program, Dawson said.

Dawson would not disclose how much money New Film has spent with BBB.

In the future, Dawson said he would like to capture some of the tourism market, enticing popular destinations to advertise, as well as financial services.

“It’s programs like these that help keep fares low and help provide dedicated operating capital to the Big Blue Bus,” Dawson said of the advertising initiative. “It also allows us to promote nonprofits and other city messaging, offering low cost or even sometimes free ad space. It really makes a difference.”

Of course there are guidelines which determine what ads can be approved. BBB will not permit advertising for alcohol, firearms or tobacco products, as well as anything considered lewd. Dawson said there is a process to determine what is inappropriate.

As far as he can remember, Dawson said there has been only one time in the last decade where an ad caused some to complain, saying the ad objectified women. It featured women in bikinis who were contestants on the reality television show “America’s Next Top Model.”

Dawson said he hopes to go before the Santa Monica City Council in June to present the Culver City deal.


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