OPINION: QUESTION TIME WITH ... - Michael Higgins/The chief executive of Van Wagner UK is boxing clever, says Lexie Goddard

If outdoor advertising companies could compete by slugging it out in the boxing ring, Michael Higgins would be laughing. At six feet three and weighing in at around 16 stone, he’d have Ron Zeghibe or Jean Francois

If outdoor advertising companies could compete by slugging it out

in the boxing ring, Michael Higgins would be laughing. At six feet three

and weighing in at around 16 stone, he’d have Ron Zeghibe or Jean


Decaux quivering in the corner within seconds. ’Same build as Muhammad

Ali,’ he says proudly, tucking into a king-sized portion of steak and


Fortunately, the red-haired Geordie will be taking on his rivals in a

more cerebral manner. He’s rented office space in Soho, nicked Maiden’s

outdoor development director Alex Brown and Mills & Allen’s general

manager Brian Coleman, and visited 25 media agencies to get the buyers

on board.

In about two weeks’ time, Higgins will open the doors to Van Wagner UK,

an American-owned outdoor outfit which promises to offer advertisers

’spectacular’ one-off sites in prime central London locations. Van

Wagner will use existing London sites as well as building its own,

seeking special planning consent to allow clients to be more adventurous

with their posters. There’s even talk of three-dimensional posters.

He’ll be repeating a formula that Van Wagner has tried and tested in the

US, where it has opted for a select number of impressive sites in, say,

Times Square, rather than going for nationwide coverage.

There’s no UK sales team as yet - simply because there are no sites to

sell - but Higgins has his beady eye on potential sales directors and

will start hiring if Van Wagner takes off.

The question is, will it take off? His rivals are highly sceptical,

pointing to the UK’s strict planning regulations and lack of available

sites. Higgins smiles wearily at the familiar response of what he calls

the ’cosy cartel’ of outdoor operators and their unwillingness to try

anything new. Many sites are tied up, he agrees, but they will be put

out for tender and he’ll be first in the queue.

The 41-year-old knows the market like the back of his giant hand. He’s

worked in the industry since he ditched a job as a PE teacher in

Liverpool at the age of 27 - it was too badly paid - and landed a job at

More Group.

He’s been in the outdoor business ever since, building up sales teams

both at Mills & Allen, where he was sales and marketing director, and

More Group, where he was chief executive. Then the ’cash rich’ Van

Wagner gave him a sizeable sum to set up its business here.

He’s also got bucket-loads of confidence, which becomes obvious when you

quiz him about his plans for the company. ’It’s unlikely we will stay in

the core business,’ he explains. ’There are other opportunities in

outdoor besides posters. We could get into ambient media. Maiden is also

having a bad time at the moment, so it’s not beyond the realms of

possibility that we could buy the company and get into the billboard


CIA Medianetwork business development director Kevin Shute, who worked

with Higgins at Mills & Allen and More, says he’s not bluffing. ’Michael

is exceedingly straight. He doesn’t go in for all this air-kissing

stuff. He says what he means and means what he says.’

But are Higgins’ plans just a wee bit ambitious? ’If Michael’s neck is

not on the line, then he’s not interested,’ responds Shute. Watch this

poster space.

Higgins on getting ahead in outdoor

’Listen to what everyone has to say, do rigorous research on the

subject, and then make your own judgement on who was talking sense.

Also, get to know people. Outdoor advertising is a very social business

and you have to really understand what makes people tick.’


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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).