Media Perspective: Outdoor's disasters herald the end of the world as we know it

Disaster movies are invariably crap. This was brought home to me when I settled down to watch The Day After Tomorrow on Sky Movies the other night.

It wasn't as crap as most other disaster movies but the impact of the special effects was lost on the small screen and some of the dialogue was disastrous. But it did have the redeeming virtue of a comfortable, obvious plot that meant I could drift into a wine-induced doze for half-an-hour and still follow the action when I woke up.

The Day After Tomorrow is about the world tumbling into a new ice age due to climate change and abuse of the environment by humans. It felt topical, what with October temperatures in London soaring towards the mid-20s.

Elsewhere, natural-disaster imagery was inspiring others. "'Perfect storm' knocks Maiden into red," a Financial Times headline proclaimed last Friday.

This followed a remark from Ron Zeghibe, the chief executive of Maiden, that his company had been hit by "a number of issues that conspired against us during the first half. It is like a perfect storm when all things seem to converge to put you in a bad place".

And Maiden wasn't the only company in outdoor inhabiting a bad place last week. Its grim news followed the headlines about Concord losing its £40 million Unilever outdoor buying account to Kinetic, leaving the Posterscope-owned specialist with a potentially massive hole in its revenues.

Concord looks like surviving its own storm and is trying to find jobs for its 16 Unilever staffers elsewhere at Posterscope and Aegis. Maiden, which announced a loss of £2.4 million for the first six months of the year, may bounce back too. It would surprise nobody, however, if there were more consolidation on the outdoor owner side.

In general, the recent misfortune of Maiden and Concord, relatively small players in their markets who have to fight extra hard to compete against their bigger rivals, can't obscure a buoyant industry that is set to grow well ahead of the rest of the display market at 7.4 per cent this year.

Yet there may be more storm clouds gathering for the specialists in particular.

The Interpublic move toward greater transparency has thrown up dark suggestions from some that, in the era of Sarbanes-Oxley, the days of the outdoor specialist could be numbered.

A laughably extreme proposition, perhaps, and no doubt based on a perception in some quarters that the outdoor buying industry is still mired in dodgy dealing and excessive commissions. However, reports are circulating that a new company (akin to the compliance accountancy Firm Decisions) is about to spring up to specialise entirely on the outdoor sector. The future might not be apocalyptic but this could have some people running for the hills.

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