Few people were shocked when James Copley was confirmed as the head of WPP specialist Kinetic in the UK. After watching Copley presenting with Posterscope's Glen Wilson at the OAA conference last April, it was clear both poster specialists were putting succession plans in place.
In a short space of time, the affable Copley has had an illustrious career in outdoor media. His swift ascent since his first job in outdoor in 1994 has landed the keen golfer in control of about 44% of all outdoor ad spend in the UK.
In February, following a period of intense speculation, Copley was promoted from UK managing director of WPP's out-of-home agency Kinetic to chief operating officer, while UK chief executive Paul Shearring confirmed his intention to step down without a job to go to.
Copley dismisses the suggestion of any intrigue or that the decision to leave was anything other than Shearring's own. Shearring had been planning his departure for "quite a while", Copley says, and the introduction of the COO role for Kinetic was "just part and parcel of a plan that has been in place for some time".
Industry executives have been supportive of Copley's elevation and he is well-liked by media owners and agencies alike, who say he is a genuine operator who is willing to listen to others' ideas and be flexible.
Rob Atkinson, managing director of Clear Channel Outdoor UK, says: "James has stepped seamlessly into his new role. He is a strong relationship builder, with sound business acumen and a good entrepreneurial approach."
Kinetic was formed in 2005 when WPP out-of-home specialist Portland Outdoor merged with the independent Poster Publicity. Under the terms of a five-year earn-out, Shearring and the other former directors of Poster Publicity are due a windfall when WPP's results are confirmed in June.
Today, Kinetic works on the outdoor media for each of the GroupM media agencies, alongside agencies from other networks such as Havas' Arena BLM and Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group and a number of directly appointed clients, such as BA.
Unlike most other sectors of media, outdoor campaigns are bought and planned by a media agency working with an outdoor specialist. Kinetic and its rival, Aegis' Posterscope, dominate the market with 44% and 41% respectively. Interpublic's IPM lags behind with 8%, and the final 7% is made up by direct and other business.
"Clients who view out-of-home as strategically important always benefit from a close relationship with Kinetic," Copley says. "Whether that is direct business or through a media agency, the closer we get to clients, the better work we can provide."
Copley says his favourite campaign to date is the early digital outdoor activity for beer brand Carling - because not only did it "tick every box of the client's marketing objectives", it was a "collaboration between Kinetic, CBSO and Vizeum".
The exact details of how involved specialists and media agencies get in the buying and planning of outdoor can change on an agency and client basis. However, whichever way round it works, there is always an extra agency layer to be remunerated.
Copley balks at the idea his clients are shielded from any commercial relationships between specialists and outdoor media owners. "The truth is, Kinetic is very much at the forefront of raising this issue with ISBA," he says.
"For anyone to accuse Kinetic of being less than 100% transparent is extremely ignorant of the facts. We have always maintained an open and transparent trading relationship with all our clients and we will continue to do so."
When asked whether Kinetic ever guarantees spend to any media owner on the basis of volume deals, Copley says no. "You cannot operate business of this scale with our level of clients and procurement without being able to justify every single purchase you make."
Copley defends the need for out-of-home specialists in the media landscape, citing the level of investment and research Kinetic and Posterscope have put into the out-of-home medium and singling out the audience measurement system Postar.
Since Copley's promotion, there have been other senior changes at Kinetic. Two weeks after Shearring's departure was confirmed, global chief executive and Poster Publicity's major shareholder Eric Newnham announced he is to become global chairman of the network.
Newnham was replaced in the chief executive job by global chief operating officer Steve Ridley, another former Poster Publicity director, who was in turn replaced by GroupM North America chief operating officer Adam Cotumaccio.
Copley has not inherited Shearring's place on the global board - instead, the UK is now represented by Crisp, along with the rest of the EMEA. "The UK now reports to Simon [like the other EMEA territories]," Copley explains, "Which makes things a lot clearer."
He adds: "Our European network has strengthened over the last couple of years. The UK now feels part of a network rather than on its own. There are always things you can learn from the network and there is a lot of best practice that can be shared."
The UK role is still central to the Kinetic network: the UK remains the largest market and the Paddington offices are its global headquarters. Copley did not get to his position without a steely sense of determination and a calculated game plan.
However, he is keen to stress the support he receives from the UK team, naming commercial director Nick Parker, client services director Nicole Lonsdale and trading director Colin Bundock. "I'm immensely lucky to have such a strong and strategically sound team of people to work with," says Copley. "We can never rule out further changes, but there's nothing immediate."
Copley became managing director in 2008 shortly before an unprecedented drop in ad revenue. Yet he seems unwearied by the baptism of fire and is confident about the role of outdoor in the media mix and Kinetic's place within that.
"Kinetic operates at the same level of confidence as any media agency out there and advertisers are increasingly interested in listening to what we have to say."
Although the final score will be influenced by external factors, judging by Copley's previous handicap and the resurgent ad market, one can cautiously predict good things for Kinetic and the outdoor industry this year.
Lives: In Wandsworth, married to an orthodontist with a 10 year-old daughter
Football team: Everton
Desert island media: Golfing community Howdidido.co.uk
Chief operating officer, Kinetic UK
Managing director, Kinetic UK
Client development director, Kinetic UK
Group account director, Poster Publicity
Account director, Poster Publicity
Senior sales executive, Adshel
Account manager, Posterscope
This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk