From the cocked eyebrow to the pointed finger, Ohioans know, “Misny makes them pay.”
Tim Misny, the Cleveland-based personal injury lawyer behind the statewide brand, has been practicing law for nearly 40 years, but in the two years since his firm began plastering billboards bearing his face and motto in more than 200 locations across Ohio, his practice has never been better.
“Phe-no-me-nal. Phenomenal,” Mr. Misny said of the incoming-call volume that has broken his law firm’s records week after week. While unable to put an exact number to the firm’s increase in clients, he described the influx as a “steroid shot.”
The “Misny Makes Them Pay” billboards have become the subject of internet memes, road-trip games, and at least one Halloween costume.
“I think people appreciate that there’s a guy out there who levels the playing field for them, because if there weren’t lawyers like me out there to hold medical institutions and businesses accountable, people would have no chance of justice,” he said.
It’s likely a high bar to expect from every campaign the sort of reaction Mr. Misny has gotten, but local business owners and others said the billboard remains a reliable source of exposure, even if it is difficult to say exactly how successful they are.
David Langendorfer, Jr., a local owner and franchisee of a number of local businesses including Mr. Storage, Little Caesars, and Jersey Mike’s, has been using outdoor billboard campaigns for the past 15 years and currently manages six different brands. Outdoor campaigns make up the majority of his advertising strategy.
“In the last 10 months we have begun using billboards for hiring ads,” Mr. Langendorfer said.
A “Now Hiring” billboard ad active for one month was equal to 11 days on Indeed.com, he said, adding that, in his experience, billboards reach more people and bring in more hires.
Jason White said customers often mention his billboards when they walk through his doors. Like Mr. Misny, Mr. White designs his own ads and uses a photo of his face alongside a slogan that resonates with his target audience: “Is bad credit blocking your goals?”
Mr. White is the founder and chief executive officer of Witness Riches, a credit-repair service based in Toledo. The company focuses much of its advertising efforts on digital and social media advertising, but billboards are reliably part of its budget.
“I have over 100,000 follows collectively on social media. And when people see me on social media, then they see the billboard, it complements what we’re doing because they see it as, ‘This must be real now.’ It’s more of a branding technique for me, and if we get a client that way, it helps,” Mr. White said.
Billboards’ down side is the difficulty tracking who’s seeing an ad and how successful it is at spinning glances into dollars, Mr. White said. Digital ads track clicks and offer businesses more data to draw from.
The Out of Home Advertising Association of America reported that in 2019, outdoor media, including billboards of all shapes and sizes, made up roughly 4 percent of the advertising market. Digital advertising made up more than half of the market in that year, garnering $128.4 billion in revenue.
In first quarter of 2021, out-of-home advertising was down by 31 percent, the trade association reported. In that category, billboards performed the strongest, with a decline of 13 percent.
Still, Mickey Frame, a local chiropractor, said a three-month billboard campaign five years ago that advertised his role as the chiropractor for the Toledo Walleye left his practice unable to keep up with incoming demand. It was his only advertising at the time, and since then he’s stayed away.
“I went from average 30 patients a month to probably 60. I probably could have had more, but there was only so much I could do,” Mr. Frame said.
A Nielsen survey last year of 453 U.S. residents found that 62 percent of consumers noticed digital billboards, half of digital-billboard viewers noticed them “all” or “most” of the time, and 65 percent of viewers engaged in actions after seeing a digital billboard ad — such as searching for an advertiser or visiting its website.
Greg Churilla, vice president and general manager of Lamar Advertising, which handles Mr. Misny’s and many other Toledo-area billboards, said what makes billboards an effective advertising tool has remained the same for years.
“It’s putting your name out in front of the public in masses. We’re one of the only mediums anymore that’s not fragmented and can reach the masses. In many cases, outdoor reaches more people than other mediums,” Mr. Churilla said.
Other billboard companies in the Toledo area include TDO Advertising (Toledo/Detroit Outdoor Advertising) and Tolson Digital Media.
Outdoor advertising has always been about creative and simple messaging. But as the need for phone or website detail has waned, ads can fit even more cleanly into the industry’s rule of thumb: 7 to 10 words, Mr. Churilla said. Generally his agency recommends pictures, color, and quick catchy slogans.
Mr. Misny said he wanted his billboard to look as clean as possible.
“If it’s not clear and concise, I think your brain just shuts off. It’s too much to absorb in two or three seconds,” Mr. Misny, adding that there’s another reason there’re no phone number or web address on his billboard.
“I want people to be vested. I want people to say, ‘Hey, I want to find out about this guy.’ And they have to make an effort,” he said.
Today looking up an item on a smart phone is quicker than remembering a number and later punching it in, or even typing in a memorized web address. All it takes to find Mr. Misny is a Google search.
The lawyer said people have stopped him on the street to joke that they’ve tossed out his slogan at their weekly poker games. When he recently visited his high school alma mater for a basketball game, he was met with chants of “Make them pay.”
“It really connects with people on a primal level,” Mr. Misny said. “When somebody is laying in a hospital as the result of an accident … or they need their car fixed, they need their medical bills paid, they need their lost wages reimbursed, they need money for future medical treatment and the insurance company is dancing around and being noncommittal, they want somebody who what? Makes them pay.”
Behind the billboard, Mr. Misny has an endless supply of client stories and quippy anecdotes for every turn in conversation. He cracks jokes and is known to say Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stole the famous raised brow from him, not the other way around.
In conversation, Mr. Misny often mentions his wife, Stephanie, and three kids, Max, Ruby, and Gus. Their pictures fill his Facebook wall and if asked about his day, the personal-injury lawyer will answer that he sets his internal barometer to a single item: if his family is healthy and happy — which they are, he noted.
It’s a softer persona than the ferocity of his firm’s message, a vow to their clients that no matter what, there is a team fighting for what is owed to victims of car accidents, medical malpractice, birth injuries, and more.
He got the idea for “Make Them Pay” from a client who, years ago, was severely injured during a routine tonsillectomy: a doctor severed a boy’s artery and the resulting bleeding caused severe, permanent brain damage. After meeting with the family at the boy’s hospital bed, Mr. Misny was approached by the child’s grandmother.
“She was about 4-foot-11, maybe 89 pounds, and she walked up to me. I’m 6’-5” and she took her index finger and she pointed and poked me in the chest and she said, ‘Now you go make them pay.’ And I did,” Mr. Misny said.