FORUM - What sort of co-operation will outdoor tolerate?

A joint marketing initiative from Mills and Allen and Maiden Outdoor came under heavy fire recently from buyers (Campaign, last week). The outdoor medium is renowned for its short tempers and long memories - and perhaps we were due a bit of a dust-up. But are the buyers right? Alasdair Reid investigates.

A joint marketing initiative from Mills and Allen and Maiden

Outdoor came under heavy fire recently from buyers (Campaign, last

week). The outdoor medium is renowned for its short tempers and long

memories - and perhaps we were due a bit of a dust-up. But are the

buyers right? Alasdair Reid investigates.

It is possible to have at least a grain of sympathy for outdoor media

owners. Every now and then someone stands up, points an accusing finger

at the contractors, and says, ’Why, oh why, don’t they all get together

and do something along the lines of the Radio Advertising Bureau?’ Of

course, every medium (except radio, obviously) has to put up with this

from time to time, yet the question has always seemed particularly

pertinent for posters - it is a small medium that could be a lot less

peripheral than it is.

But what happens when the contractors make tentative moves to set up

joint marketing initiatives? Buyers start accusing the contractors of

conspiring to rig the market, that’s what.

Perhaps we now know the answer to the why-oh-why question.

In recent weeks, two of the biggest contractors, Maiden Outdoor and

Mills and Allen, have been working together on several joint marketing

strategies, including the organisation of a marketing forum designed to

thrash out trading issues. On the agenda were proposals for the

introduction of a bar-code system to track campaign delivery; and, more

controversially, whether to ’tweak’ Postar, the new gold standard for

trading in the medium (Campaign, last week).

Many buyers and rival contractors say that Maiden and M&A could be

tempted to take their co-operation into more contentious areas - they

point to the fact that both have started hardening their rates at

exactly the same time. At what point does co-operation between media

owners threaten to become a cartel? Have buyers over-reacted?

Francis Goodwin, the managing director of Maiden Roadside, clearly

thinks so. He points out that, compared with other outdoor formats, the

48-sheet sector is still fragmented across several media owners - it is

therefore necessary for M&A and Maiden to co-operate if they are to

improve service and accountability.

’Issues such as bar-coding and a scheme to attract new users will

benefit all participants in outdoor but require cooperation from a broad

range of media owners to maximise the potential benefits. The Maiden and

M&A co-operation on these issues is actually designed to include all

48-sheet media owners who wish to participate,’ he argues.

Goodwin wholeheartedly agrees that it is inappropriate for any

industry-wide initiatives to touch on the issue of competitive pricing

’The Outdoor Advertising Association is concerned that the outdoor

market be perceived as both accountable and transparent. Each member

must take its own view of how to handle these issues with their own

trading relationships. It has been Maiden’s intention from the beginning

to seek a joint solution that is fair and equitable - in co-operation

with not only the specialists but also the Institute of Practitioners in

Advertising and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers.’

But that’s exactly the point, Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of

Initiative Media and the IPA’s spokesman on outdoor media matters,


’In principle, the concept of competitive media owners combining

resources to market the medium to advertisers is fine. The issue lies

entirely in the way that it is done and the kind of approval that they

have for the existence of that body. In this case there was certainly

never any approach made to the IPA.

’The feeling is that, on the contractor side, there have been

conversations behind closed doors. That shouldn’t happen, the parties

involved have gone about this in the wrong way. If they want to change

the way the medium is traded, they have to take the rest of the market

with them.’

Collaboration between media owners in certain areas makes sense, Annie

Rickard, the managing director of Posterscope, concedes. But she is

deeply concerned about this initiative. ’Some of the items on the agenda

touch on Postar. The media owners and specialists jointly own Postar and

it has been the focus for mature debate over the last year. But this

initiative has the contractors’ agenda, their timing and involves only

those who are on their list. They are dictating the whole thing. Of

course, it is legitimate for us to worry that it could be extended into

other areas such as price. In my view, the individuals involved in the

joint initiative have either been Machiavellian or extremely naive and

clumsy. Take your pick.’

Michael Higgins, the executive director at the rival outdoor contractor,

More Group, maintains that the initiative is totally unnecessary. ’The

medium is now nicely structured into three main sectors and has never

been easier to purchase,’ he says. ’I can’t see the point in them

wanting to take things further at present. If there are any pressing

issues in the market they have to be addressed by industry bodies.

Maiden and M&A have asked us to attend a forum but we have declined. We

have our own ideas on marketing and for them to invite us is not only

unnecessary but a bit dangerous really. Our view is that anything to do

with trading relationships is down to individual companies. That is

sacrosanct as far as we are concerned.’

Chris Morley, the chief executive of the buying specialist, IPM, and

chairman of the Council of Outdoor Specialists, says: ’When news of the

marketing initiative spread, there was an almost audible groan around

town. It seems that the ability of the industry to disappoint is almost

boundless. What they were initially proposing had implications for

Postar - which is joint industry research that we jointly fund and we

couldn’t countenance any possible damage to that. There are also

concerns that this will become a strategic alliance with far-reaching

implications - and at no stage can we condone that.

’I hate the image of outdoor buyers and sellers slagging each other off

in the press but this was done in a way that was guaranteed to make

people’s antennae twitch. Through a number of channels we have done a

lot to improve the reality of the relationship between buyers and

sellers. I’d like to see that put back on an even keel. We’re still