SPOTLIGHT ON: OUTDOOR ADVERTISING: Does the Outdoor Advertising Association have any future? - Its disunited membership poses a threat to the OAA’s status, Alasdair Reid says

By ALASDAIR REID,, Friday, 11 April 1997 12:00AM

Most media owner trade bodies face crises of identity every now and then. Are they social clubs, forums for debate, political lobbying machines or marketing organisations?

Most media owner trade bodies face crises of identity every now and

then. Are they social clubs, forums for debate, political lobbying

machines or marketing organisations?

Ideally, they would be all those and more - but this is not an ideal

world, as anyone in the outdoor advertising industry will readily


Last week, the poster contractors’ trade organisation, the Outdoor

Advertising Association, came under the spotlight after its

director-general, Richard Holliday, decided to take up a full-time

position at Postar, the medium’s industry audience research outfit.

Holliday already spent 80 per cent of his time dealing with Postar

issues, so you could argue it’s no big deal. But that argument assumes

that the contractors’ interest in Postar has become synonymous with the

OAA - and that is surely a dangerous assumption. Will the OAA languish

in obscurity? Is it time for a relaunch? If so, what should its

priorities be?

The OAA’s biggest problem is the potential for disunity on the media

owner side. The smaller regional contractors tend to be suspicious of

the big national companies; and the industry also divides by sector -

the larger 48- and 96-sheet formats, dominated by Mills and Allen and

Maiden, against the smaller formats where More O’Ferrall excels.

Maiden and Mills and Allen have alarmed the rest of the industry by

joining forces on marketing initiatives. One observer believes this is

the tip of the iceberg. ’In the past 18 months, the OAA hasn’t really

represented the smaller contractors and they’ve given up regarding it as

their trade body,’ he asserts. ’Maiden and Mills and Allen choosing to

do their own thing undermines the OAA. Even the bigger contractors find

it hard to sit round a table together.’

So, is this the end of the road for the OAA? Would it matter? Ron

Zeghibe, the chief executive of Maiden, dismisses these questions. ’The

OAA is as strong as ever and is evolving its role with regard to

Postar,’ he claims. ’We are attracting more regional contractors to the

organisation. The OAA is much more focused than it ever has been.

I don’t see the need to find a replacement for the top job - it’s just a

figurehead role, there to rubberstamp Postar decisions. As for other

aspects of the organisation, we can organise that among ourselves under

a chairmanship that could be rotated round the companies. I’m

comfortable with that idea. There isn’t enough for a high-profile OAA

head to do on a full-time basis.’

Others are not so sure. Many poster buying specialists say it’s almost

scandalous that OAA members can be proud of the fact they don’t do

generic marketing. The contractors may kid themselves it’s irrelevant -

after all, they’ve been doing very well recently. That, say the

specialists, is down more to luck than judgment. The growth factors are

transient - such as posters being fashionable among creatives at


The big contractors are doing well but would be doing better had they

thought more about generic marketing. They should be looking to the


And, while individual companies focus on talking up the benefits of

individual sectors, poster specialists claim they have been doing most

to champion outdoor advertising as a whole.

They say it’s hardly an ideal situation when contractors are trying to

squeeze the margins of specialists. The buyers are not optimistic.

Dennis Sullivan, the chairman of Portland, points out that the

contractors haven’t really done much in the way of joint marketing for

the past six years.

’The danger now is that if the OAA survives at all, it will become a

talking shop for nuts-and-bolts issues rather than existing as a central

marketing organisation. That would be a great shame,’ he says.

This article was first published on


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