CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/ALAN JAMES - CDP veteran sets his sights on the great outdoors. Alan James will be joining outdoor's trade body at the right time

Alan James' appointment to the new role of chief executive of the Outdoor Advertising Association marks a sea change in the direction of the trade body.

With its origins as a pressure group it has traditionally been concerned with lobbying the Government on matters affecting its own backyard, and was most recently run by the former Labour MP Matthew Carrington.

But the OAA is now taking on greater responsibility for the conceptual promotion of outdoor as a medium to advertisers and agencies - and the hiring of James is a key part of the strategy. Some believe that this move to a more coherent trade body is overdue.

"Individual contractors have been very good at marketing themselves but in the past there has been no centralisation of selling outdoor as an industry,

MindShare's head of outdoor, Catherine Bosworth, points out.

Such is the excitement generated by the "new

OAA that some have started to make optimistic comparisons between it and the widely acclaimed Radio Advertising Bureau.

But James, although admitting that the OAA will be borrowing some ideas from the RAB, dismisses these suggestions as rash.

He says that he will be concentrating on getting himself in front of creative agencies as well as media agencies and their clients.

And Clive Punter, Viacom Outdoor's joint managing director, says: "Although we'll be using elements of the RAB, there are differences between radio and outdoor.

For example, the RAB has to protect the interests of commercial radio against the BBC and in outdoor there is no such threat. Also we don't want to tread on the toes of the poster specialists."

The development of a body committed to the generic marketing of outdoor has been welcomed and much of the credit has gone to Maiden Outdoor's managing director, David Pugh, who had taken on the role of non-executive chairman at the OAA. This position will now rotate between the members of the OAA's council, and James says that this is all part of the change in focus at the OAA.

"Matthew was appointed with a different remit to me and we've changed the management structure because things have moved on,

James says.

Score Outdoor's director, Bill Wilson, has also joined the executive management team as operations director, and although it has not been confirmed, it is thought that this is in a full-time basis.

According to James, Wilson will be involved in a "nuts and bolts role" looking at revenues, policies and the relationship with Postar. This allows James to be out and about flogging the idea of outdoor.

The idea for a rejuvenated and refocused OAA was born at last year's Barcelona Outdoor conference. The OAA council is keen to point out that it is not a response to the recent breakaway of ambient media owners to form their own trade organisation.

"The timing of the ambient thing and the development at the OAA are coincidental,

Pugh says.

Some point out that the ambient players really count for very little of outdoor and the coverage they receive is disproportionate to their total impact. "They may be high profile but they usually only account for less than 10 per cent of the total outdoor spend,

one observer points out.

However, Bosworth, for one, thinks that the creation of the ambient splinter group could continue to be an irritation for the fledgling OAA. Certainly James and Pugh are keen to welcome the black sheep back to the fold in their bid to create a more inclusive and representative organisation.

Punter insists that the new OAA will not diminish the work of the marketing departments at each of the individual media owners.

"Each company's marketing is about their differentiation,

he says. "The OAA will look at the collective, generic power of the medium by creating one voice."

But how qualified is James, a CDP Media veteran who lost his position in the shake-up following the creation of Mediaedge:CIA, to lead this collective sell? Pugh says he was after someone with a broad range of media experience and James fitted the bill.

"Alan is an experienced guy,

the media consultant Edward Lloyd Barnes adds. "He'd been at CDP for donkey's years and during that time he has built up a reputation as a competent, decent chap and he has gravitas."

James claims that through working across TV, radio, press and outdoor (he sat on the Outdoor Focus board during his brief tenure at CIA), he knows where outdoor fits in the media mix.

Expect James to reinforce outdoor's positioning as a cheaper alternative to TV and one that can be used as a lead medium in its own right. With outdoor apparently weathering the ad recession better than its competitors, James could not have picked a better time to take this message to market.


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