MIKE PESCA, host:
From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Mike Pesca.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
Sign twirlers, you may have noticed them on street corners.
PESCA: These human advertisements have become increasingly popular, especially in the real estate industry.
BRAND: DAY TO DAY contributor Jennifer Sharpe is interested in most anything odd, so she went out to those streets to check out the sign twirlers.
Mr. PHILLIP PARKS (Sign Twirler): My name's Phillip Parks. I'm 33, but I feel like I'm 23.
JENNIFER SHARPE: Phil Parks is towering over me in a superhero costume, getting ready for work. We're in what feels like his backstage area, a Santa Monica parking lot behind the corner of 11th and Wilshire, where for nearly six hours a day through heat waves and fog Parks is a dancing advertisement for a local property rental agency. I'd been studying his perpetual state of exuberant mania through my windshield for two months now.
What do you call this profession?
Mr. PARKS: I'm a director of street marketing, superhero comic character. I'm just trying to bring everything to life like a symphony.
Mr. ANTHONY UNATA(ph) (Chief Executive Officer, Westside Rentals): I noticed Phil at a Santa Monica College basketball game. And the first thing that came to mind was he's got all the moves and we've got all the rentals.
SHARPE: Anthony Unata, chief executive officer, Westside Rentals.
Mr. UNATA: We went out and bought a very expensive, elaborate cape, and it turned out he couldn't be in perpetual motion with a heavy cape. So we went out and got a lighter version and now he's flying away every day.
Mr. PARKS: I liked the outfit, you know. I use a cape and a shield to fight off negative energy, because some of these people are just depressed and stressed and I find a way to get out of their emotional mess.
(Soundbite of music)
SHARPE: Through his boombox, Parks plays everything from Snoop Dogg to Barry Manilow. What's he thinking about out there?
Mr. PARKS: I'm just trying to find my place, you know. I'm doing some soul searching when I'm working. And it's a lonely job at times. You know, I feel like - but I know they're cheering me on.
SHARPE: I get back in my car and head up Wilshire Boulevard to see who else is out there. Fifteen blocks east, I pass a pirate gently stirring the air with his 500-piece poker set sign. But he doesn't speak English so I keep going. At Westwood Boulevard, I spot an arrow-shaped sign flipping through the air and then falling into the arms of a young man.
Mr. JEREMY WHITE (Sign Twirler): My name's Jeremy White. I'm spinning a sign for an open house.
SHARPE: White, who specializes in spinning blindfolded, is one of 300 employees working for a company called Arrow Advertising. They recruited him off a street corner back when he was spinning a sign for Little Caesar's.
Mr. WHITE: They came and picked me up and said, hey, we want you to come work for us.
SHARPE: Attracted to the company's extreme sports approach to the job, White signed up for Arrow Advertising's boot camp, where head spinstructor Randy Jenks(ph) taught him 14 moves in 45 minutes.
Mr. WHITE: Four flip side arm toss with an on-the-butt-above-the-head catch.
SHARPE: For every new trick the spinners learn, they get a ten cent raise. And if they come up with one of their own, they can submit it to the company's trick review board for a potential one dollar raise.
Mr. RANDY JENKS (Spinstructor, Arrow Advertising): They do this move, it's called the Bird, and they squat down and get their eagle on.
SHARPE: Jenks, who often speaks in spinonyms...
Mr. JENKS: Spinteracting, spintastic...
SHARPE: ...doesn't just spin while he's working; he takes his arrow with him wherever he goes.
Mr. JENKS: To the malls, to the beach, and I show them what I can do.
SHARPE: Although human animated advertising dates back to at least the 1820s, when the introduction of advertising tax created a proliferation of people wearing sandwich boards on the streets, it apparently wasn't until the early 1980s that someone stood out on a street corner with an arrow-shaped sign for the first time.
A company called Events Extraordinaire that specializes in grand openings came up with idea. They now employ 600 human directionals, as they're most commonly called in the industry.
Mr. MIKE MCCULLOUGH(ph) (Vice President of Marketing): You know what? We coined the term human directional. I know in the industry people call them sign flippers, sign swingers, human arrows, but we use the term human directionals.
SHARPE: Vice president of marketing Mike McCullough went on to explain that business has jumped nearly 70 percent in just the past few months, an increase that can be attributed to a slowing real estate market flooded with condos. McCullough's company is looking for a bigger office space, and so is Arrow Advertising. Spinstructor Randy Jenks told me he was planning to head over to West Side Rentals, hoping not just to score a bigger office space, but also to scout Phil Parks, the talent on the corner of 11th and Wilshire.
Mr. JENKS: I just heard that he gets excellent attention, that he's really hyperactive on the corner. So I've got to go by and see this master at getting (unintelligible), because I've got a spinja I can put him up against.
(Soundbite of music)
SHARPE: For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Sharpe.