It seems like advertising is omnipresent in today’s society, but Mihaylo College finance alumni Blake Ruschman ’17 and Trevor Laudate ’17 recognized one prime location for ad space that had yet to be tapped: truck trailer skirts. The two have founded SideSkirt Ads, which connects businesses and causes seeking to reach larger audiences with trucking companies hoping for an auxiliary revenue source.
Next time you are stuck in traffic during your Southern California commute, take a look at the side skirts of the eighteen-wheeler in the next lane, and you might see a public service message to avoid drunk driving or a logo reminding you of your favorite coffee brand. The novel spot to reach audiences is the brainchild of Blake Ruschman ’17 and Trevor Laudate ’17, both Mihaylo finance alumni and grads of the college’s Applied Security Analysis Program (ASAP).
The two entrepreneurs, who met during their first week at Mihaylo College through Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, say SideSkirt Ads is not their first concept, but it has the greatest potential for success and innovation. “We saw the white space on the skirts as an actual white space in the outdoor advertising industry,” they say. “You are often told to look where no one else is looking when creating a business. But ironically enough, we are focusing where everyone is looking! Side skirts sit within inches of thousands of consumers who are on the road each day. With more than 50 square feet per skirt of eye-level open space per truck, this provides unmatched exposure.”
Getting the Concept on the Road
Having launched in January, finding clients is still an outbound process for SideSkirt Ads. “We’ve been focused on getting creative in our sales strategy,” says Ruschman. “A lot of our time is spent educating consumers on our platform and the process takes anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month, depending on the campaign size. We work closely with our clients to determine the most strategic markets for their campaigns, either regionally or nationally.”
Sales is just one of the roles for the startup’s staff and partners. The in-house design team, led by Laudate, creates the artwork that will resonate best with this medium, while a nationwide network of professional installers ensures that each ad adheres perfectly to the truck skirts. Monthly reports provide the metrics that clients crave.
“A lot of due diligence goes into finding qualified trucking partners. In some respects, we are a real estate company as well as a marketing firm,” says Laudate. “As with any investment, we rigorously analyze every trailer skirt. The first step is usually to find owners that have skirts on their equipment and have a vision that dovetails with what we are doing. From there, we do quality control, ensuring that their trucks are top-of-the-line, remain in impressive physical condition and are constantly moving. We are in the business of partnerships, both with our product and our clients. We seek to provide value to both.”
Laudate and Ruschman have developed an original algorithm to estimate the impact of ads in which the GPS data of the trucks are compared against government traffic reports to generate metrics, including impressions. SideSkirt Ads is partnering with Geopath, a major rating agency in out-of-home advertising, to implement new software designed for transit and truck fleets.
“We will have the ability to track impressions from cell phone pings from the ad, providing even more detail on the markets for our clients. This should be operational by July,” says Ruschman. “Our transition to the new technology improves credibility and accuracy of reporting. It is going to be a major asset for our business and will allow us to provide far more in-depth data for clients.”
But Laudate and Ruschman believe that they have only scratched the surface of what can be achieved through truck side skirt advertising. “Ideally, in five years, every time you will see a semi-truck, there will be an ad on the skirt with our logo next to it,” they say. “Our vision is to provide nationwide exposure for both large brands and smaller companies seeking to expand their presence.”
Preparing for Entrepreneurship Through ASAP
The ASAP program, which gives a cohort of Mihaylo College finance students an applied investment management experience utilizing an actual portfolio of stocks and bonds, was integral in preparing Laudate and Ruschman for going live with their concept.
“In ASAP, we learned how to effectively analyze the ins and outs of companies across all industries,” says Laudate. “We continuously apply the fundamental skills acquired through the program when building SideSkirt Ads. We owe a lot to ASAP Director Michael Milligan, who taught us more than we could ever ask for.”