Campaign Report - European Media - The great outdoors - The growing fashionability of outdoor means differences between countries may be ironed out so uniform global campaigns can become a reality, Michele Martin says

After years of being considered advertising’s most parochial medium, outdoor seems to be coming in from the cold. Just a glance at recent media coverage reveals that posters and street furniture are no longer bolt-ons to the main business of media, but a sexy, global business in their own right.

After years of being considered advertising’s most parochial

medium, outdoor seems to be coming in from the cold. Just a glance at

recent media coverage reveals that posters and street furniture are no

longer bolt-ons to the main business of media, but a sexy, global

business in their own right.



The evidence comes at corporate level, with a string of recent

takeovers, near-takeovers and mission statements about expansion from

the largest players. When the US media company, Clear Channel, bought

the UK’s More Group in June, it created arguably the world’s largest

outdoor media owner. In order to do so, it had to see off a bid from the

French-owned Euro-giant, JC Decaux. At the same time, the American-owned

company, TDI, made no secret of its desire to acquire businesses across

the Continent. Take into account the local acquisitions in many other

European countries and the sector’s fashionability becomes evident.



Yet despite all the activity, the number of clients celebrating this new

internationalism with regional outdoor campaigns is small. ’Local market

advertising is still the norm, even Unilever and Nestle tend not to buy

pan-European campaigns at the moment,’ Alan Simmons, the chairman of the

poster planning and buying specialist, Concord, observes. Nor are they

likely to for a few years yet, according to Coline McConville, chief

operating officer for More Group, arguably now one of the sector’s most

international of companies. ’It will be three to five years before our

regular clients can tap into a truly international network,’ she

says.



While outdoor’s corporate players have been laying the foundations for

change, the industry’s day-to-day business has yet to catch up. As a

result, most advertisers still have to buy international outdoor

campaigns on a market-by-market basis rather than from a single sales

point. This is usually done through agencies and media buyers or - in

the UK and Germany - using specialist brokers, such as Portland,

Posterscope, Poster Publicity and Concord, and their European networks

or affiliates.



But changes are coming, making it easier for clients to go

one-stop-shopping to media owners for the sector’s posters, ambient

media and airport sites.



McConville says: ’Clients will get their pan-European campaigns, but it

will take a while.’ Mike Segrue, deputy managing director of Poster

Publicity International, adds: ’Contractors want to increase their

client bases and they’ll be short-sighted if they don’t do that by

offering centralised deals.’ And it will happen for business reasons. At

stake is a market likely to grow by conservative estimates of 10-15 per

cent a year, according to Concord. The real figure is probably much

larger, however, since the pan-European market is valued at just dollars

350 million, according to the Federation of International Poster

Advertising. Even the UK market is valued at pounds 400 million.



Outdoor has grown up as a fragmented medium. Countries have developed at

different speeds driven by their economies, from the mature British

market, to newer ones such as Russia. What each has to offer is as

varied as the countries themselves. The UK might lead the way with

’street furniture’, such as toilets and bus shelters that take

advertising, but it is more conservative with other offerings. For

example, it does not authorise ’supersized’ temporary poster sites

supported by scaffolding, as many Continental countries do.



Each country has its own variations in poster and site sizes, making it

almost impossible for clients to buy uniform campaigns, unless they are

looking for six-sheet posters or Citylights (Adshels), the most

standardised European formats. There is a lack of pan-European audience

research data and media contracts vary - with some of the more

traditional countries holding clients to one-year contracts, where

others offer more flexible deals. Trying to marry up the different

requirements is, as McConville puts it, ’a logistical nightmare’.



Yet as the corporate wheeler-dealing indicates, financial imperatives

are forcing companies to find ways of overcoming these problems. And

much of the market is being propelled by interest from US companies, who

are more likely to see the continent as one region. Simmons says: ’US

clients are particularly looking to London to find out what’s feasible

in Europe and what isn’t, from questions of legality in different

countries to format variations. They want the same creative work to run

to the same dimensions in ten to 20 countries. They want total

uniformity.’



It may not take long for most to realise that they cannot have exactly

what they want, but their demands are helping contractors, specialists

and agencies to rethink their product. More Group believes it is leading

the way in translating a desire for change into concrete benefits,

helped by an estimated dollars 1 billion investment from Clear Channel.

It plans to take the next 12 months to put together an international

ratecard, computerise data on site information and availability, and to

look at ways of standardising formats. ’We are considering strategically

what our customers need,’ McConville says. ’If they need more global

campaigns, then we will do that, even though it will take time and be

difficult.’



Other companies concur on many of the basics. Simmons agrees that

computer-assisted data is one way of making things easier for clients.

As director of the company’s new international roadside and airport

buying company, Outer Space, he has helped mastermind research and

development into software that makes it quicker for clients to book

sites. ’This trend in internationalism is towards short-term campaigns

and that demands a fast knowledge of the sites on offer,’ he says. ’You

need to be able to show a client where it is and if it’s any good, so

that you can book it immediately.’



Companies at all levels of the outdoor business will inevitably move

towards greater use of these and other systems as the race to expand

business hots up. And it’s a race worth winning. As McConville

concludes: ’The company (media owner) who can crack pan-European

campaigns first will do very well.’



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