CAMPAIGN REPORT ON OUTDOOR & AMBIENT: The last broadcast medium - Business is booming for the outdoor market - not least because of a rash of dotcom start-ups. Alasdair Reid asks whether it will last

John Prescott is apparently very popular among outdoor media owners these days. According to some sources, the failure of the Government’s transport policy, as championed by Prescott, the deputy prime minister, has been instrumental in boosting the medium’s audience figures. When the nation spends half its waking life standing on platforms, waiting in bus queues or sitting in traffic jams, there’s only one clear winner in the media world.

John Prescott is apparently very popular among outdoor media owners

these days. According to some sources, the failure of the Government’s

transport policy, as championed by Prescott, the deputy prime minister,

has been instrumental in boosting the medium’s audience figures. When

the nation spends half its waking life standing on platforms, waiting in

bus queues or sitting in traffic jams, there’s only one clear winner in

the media world.



Audience figures, Prescott-inspired or not, are merely one of a number

of positive indicators for the medium. Consolidation in ownership has

stimulated investment across the industry, allowing the medium to

overhaul its image just at a time when major consumer advertisers were

looking for an excuse to channel money away from TV.



All the graphs are on the upturn: audience supply, quantity and quality

of sites and client demand. And that’s before we even begin to consider

the dotcom bonanza.



It’s all a far cry from 12 months ago when we witnessed Maiden’s chief

executive, Ron Zeghibe, issuing yet another profits warning and claiming

that things looked bleak for outdoor in general. When a threat of

recession looms, he added, outdoor is the first medium to be knocked off

advertising schedules.



What a difference a year makes. Actually, it’s been more than a

year.



At the time, there were those who believed Zeghibe was selling the

medium short. Even as he was speaking, a wave of acquisitions started on

an international scale (for instance, Clear Channel’s purchase of More

Group in 1998) was making an ever more powerful impact in the UK market.

And in just over a year we have seen Scottish Media Group acquire

Primesight and Baillie, Scottish Radio Holdings snap up four regional

contractors - Trainer, Parkin, Vision and Signways - and, perhaps most

important of all, JCDecaux buying Mills & Allen.



Bigger players bring bigger ambitions. Everyone wants to develop new and

better sites while culling the bad ones; and they are introducing more

and better illumination and new technologies such as the scrolling

48-sheets that More Group and Mills & Allen are putting so much effort

behind.



Julie France, the sales and marketing director of More Group, says it’s

about people too. ’Consolidation of ownership has led directly to

increased investment in plant and that in itself has had a tremendous

impact. But consolidation has also seen media owners bringing people

into the business from other media or other disciplines. The medium is

much more sophisticated when it comes to marketing and selling

itself.’



It’s not only sophisticated, it’s single-minded. The medium is

rediscovering its prime virtues. While the television audience is

fragmenting, outdoor has staked a claim to be the last truly broadcast

medium, offering high-impact and quick-cover build. It has been

positioned as the ideal medium for new launches - such as dotcoms.



Dotcom companies have come from nowhere to become one of the medium’s

top four categories within the past 12 months. They are spending mainly

in 48-sheets but also figuring strongly in the six-sheet market.

According to David Pugh, the joint sales and marketing director of

Maiden, buoyant revenues are not just down to the dotcoms. He says: ’If

you look back 20 years, 70 per cent of revenue was booze and fags. Ten

years ago, less than 20 per cent of the top 200 advertisers used

outdoor. Now the figure is around 80 per cent. If you look at our best

categories, financial, motors, media and entertainment are all up at the

top. But if you look further down the table you will see a strong

performance from things such as FMCG. Growth is coming from

everywhere.’



Pugh adds: ’It’s a combination of push and pull. We have a growing

audience and we can measure that audience with greater confidence. There

is also a cost effectiveness issue. We offer a typical cost per thousand

of between pounds 1.25 and pounds 1.50.



Radio is twice that and television at least four times that. In fact,

pounds 5 for TV would be the bare minimum.’



Disaffected television advertisers and newcomers such as dotcoms are

combining to make this a year to remember for outdoor. There are,

however, a couple of little clouds on the horizon. Many specialists warn

that the medium shouldn’t confuse good fortune with good management.



’There’s no harm in making hay while the sun shines,’ David Tallis, the

joint managing director of Poster Publicity, says. ’But they shouldn’t

think everything in the garden is rosy on the basis of one good

year.



It’s masking a lot of inherent problems in the industry.



’Take out dotcom and take out the tobacco advertising, which has had

another temporary reprieve, and the market would be flat.’



Specialists say that media owners aren’t living up to their promises

when it comes to research. It’s fine being cheap - and that’s the reason

why so many FMCG companies are switching budgets into the medium from TV

- but does that equate to good value?



They also point to what they believe is a more serious problem: growing

pains in the six-sheet market. This sector, which includes bus shelters

and street furniture in shopping centres and other retail-friendly

environments, is the medium’s biggest success story in the past few

years.



Alan Simmons, the chairman of Concord, believes you can have too much of

a good thing. He says: ’There are people who feel that the six-sheet

bubble will burst soon. In 1995, there were 32,500 six-sheet sites. Last

year there were 64,800. If the industry keeps up that pace it will turn

the six-sheet business into an absolute commodity market.’



Other specialists agree, pointing out that some of the problem stems

from the promises contractors make to local authorities when pitching

for street furniture contracts.



Some UK towns now have a ridiculously high number of six-sheet sites

while others are under-served. Some of the ’national’ packages offered

by contractors need close examination, buyers say.



Contractors, understandably, have little time for such nit-picking.

No-one, they argue, should be scared of the long-term gains that growth

can bring. Spencer Berwin, the group sales director of JCDecaux UK,

says: ’Some people are never satisfied, are they? I can remember when

they were complaining that the industry wasn’t investing enough in new

sites.

There are contractors who might be guilty of investing in poor-quality

stock but I always find it odd when I hear anyone in our business trying

to talk the market down. We certainly wouldn’t be making the investment

we are if we didn’t believe that the business was in excellent

shape.’





CAMPAIGN REPORT



Editor Pippa Considine



Art Editor Nadia Rooney



Production Editor Michael Porter



Production Manager Emma Shortt





CAMPAIGN OFFICE



174 Hammersmith Road



London W6 7JP



Tel: (020) 8267 4656



Fax: (020) 8267 4914/4915





SUBSCRIPTIONS



(020) 8841 3970



For back issues call



(020) 8503 0588



(C)Haymarket Management Publications Limited





FRONT COVER



Javier Dauden/The Stock Market.



Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).