SPOTLIGHT ON: POSTER BUYING: Maiden’s outdoor innovation makes for sharper targeting - Maiden is giving buyers a choice of individual sites. Alasdair Reid investigates

No-one could accuse the outdoor industry of being recklessly impetuous.

No-one could accuse the outdoor industry of being recklessly

impetuous.



In 1994 at a conference in Sorrento, advertisers, media owners and

outdoor specialists gathered to discuss the medium’s burning issues.

Issues such as the imminent arrival of grown-up, credible research,

called Oscar II (which became Postar); the pros and cons of the medium’s

arcane commission system - and the issue of packages.



Life is too short for some things - and planning and buying an outdoor

campaign site by site is certainly one of them. Even if you did have the

patience to buy individual billboards, you wouldn’t really know what you

were buying in audience terms. So you take off-the-shelf packages of

sites that meet rough and ready planning requirements - such as giving

extra regional momentum to TV campaigns.



At Sorrento, advertisers pointed out that the advent of Oscar II would -

or could - change some of those rules. Posters would come closer to

having ’impacts’ data, and planning could become more precise. But

although packages could make life easy for both contractors and buyers,

they were not going to be flexible enough for the requirements of

advertisers.



Four years on, Maiden has acted. Last week it launched Dynamic

Solutions, a system designed to bring a measure of flexibility to the

48-sheet market.



The contractor will put 2,000 (some agencies have been told 3,000)

sites, or 20 per cent of its total inventory, into a pool from which

advertisers will be able to buy individual panels.



It is not envisaged that anyone will attempt - or in practice be allowed

- to construct whole campaigns from this new spot market. Rather, they

will be used to correct deficiencies in some packages or enhance the

effectiveness of others.



Will it work? The medium is not known for delivering with subtlety or

complexity. After all, campaigns in the outdoor market are still reliant

on a man in a van with a ladder and brush. Throw his fortnightly

schedule out of kilter and you might end up with mistakes.



The biggest worry for specialists is that this and other logistical

problems might increase lead times. And the great attraction of outdoor

for some advertisers is its use as a short-term tactical weapon.



’Almost by definition, packages suit the media owner’s particular

distribution of sites. They don’t even reflect the distribution of

population in the country, never mind the specific requirements of

advertisers. The chance to counter that will be welcomed,’ Alan Simmons,

chairman of Concord, says.



But, he adds, the system has limitations. ’The first in will have the

pick of the crop, and it may well be that only a couple of advertisers

will be able to get exactly what they want - because, by definition, at

least 10 per cent of the pool will probably be of no use to any one,’ he

says. ’Maiden will no doubt be seeking a premium from these sites and

lead times will be a concern because posting could be a nightmare. We’ll

all be on a learning curve over the first six months of next year. It

will be up to the market as a whole to decide whether, when push comes

to shove, it actually wants this.’



Chris Morley, the chief executive of IPM, says that longer lead times

would be a concern - but he is confident that Maiden will be alive to

the issue. He comments: ’The success or failure of this initiative will

depend on the quality of the systems used to manage it. In return for

creating bespoke packages, Maiden has to maximise yield and that will

need deft inventory management.



’The message that came out of Sorrento was that packages aren’t

necessarily the last word and that you should be able to tweak them at

the margins. We will certainly approach this positively. This will test

how much flexibility there can be in the outdoor market.’



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