San Gabriel Valley Tribune (West Covina, CA)
A new spin on advertising
Author: Audrey Reed Staff writer
David Lemke, 19, steps up to the corner of Madison and Colorado in Pasadena on Saturdays with one goal in mind - to be the best signman around.The two-year veteran wags, spins and tosses a large arrow-shaped sign advertising a nearby condominium complex in hopes that sign spinning will one day take over billboards.
"I like to be the center of attention," he said between doing sign tricks on a particularly hot July day. "When you see someone throw a sign 30 feet in the air and catch it the right way - people notice."
Lemke spends his weekends as a sign spinner, a form of advertising that has proliferated throughout busy Southland intersections. Apartment complexes to restaurants to retail stores employ spinners, or "waggers" as they are sometimes called, to get the attention of passers-by.
There is no permit process for spinners, so the advertising is easy to set up, said Michael Kinney, chief operations officer of Aarrow, a sign spinning company with about 50 clients in California. Kinney said sign spinning gets the audience to interact with the spinner, who acts as a combination billboard/salesperson.
"It's something that they tell their family about when they get home," said Kinney, adding that Aarrow focuses more on branding for its clients, rather than getting people in the door that day.
Most spinners work for a company, such as Aarrow or 1-800-Great Ad, which contract with the company in need of advertising. Aarrow sends its spinners though a boot camp of sorts where instructors hold weekly practice sessions and teach about 130 sign tricks to aspiring spinners. San Diego-based Aarrow bases its pay - $8 to $15 per hour - on each spinner's level of mastery. Not all spinners go through such training. Michael Donahue, 51, of Azusa is paid $10 per hour, although he never received formal classes from his employer, 1-800-Great Ad. Each spinner has his or her unique strategies for catching the attention of passers-by. But making eye contact with motorists and pedestrians, making sure the sign is readable and always keeping the sign pointing in the direction of the business are universal rules. Donahue's son, 21-year-old Michael Donahue of Azusa, also spins signs in the area. He uses music emitted from his iPod to set the pace for his sign motions. Both father, a professor at a professional college in Virginia, and son, a student a Citrus College, spin to make extra money. Waggers are constantly dealing with the public, which can make for interesting stories that go well beyond the usual honk or holler from observers. "I had a guy make a Cingular sign and stand right next to me and have his friend videotape us and then tell me I was doing my job poorly," the younger Donahue said. Lemke was also videotaped while doing tricks. The footage was uploaded onto YouTube.com, and later found by a friend who told Lemke. Lemke views his job as a career - one he plans to stick with for the long haul. "I just try to make everyone smile," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2249