On Tuesday, Transport for London began a process that is going to mean a lot of long nights and working weekends for some of you. The body finally outlined the time frame and scope of the review that will decide who will be its advertising sales partner for the Underground from next year. The contract is said to be the biggest of its kind in the world and is certainly the most prestigious in the UK out-of-home market.
Viacom Outdoor beat its rivals to the work back in 2006 with a bombastic bid and a huge guarantee. It was heady time – the outdoor sector had been through a sustained period of growth and there was a collective sense that things could only go one way. How wrong we all were. The Underground contract was not the only one to go sour.
Two Network Rail deals put paid to Titan Outdoor in the UK and JCDecaux resigned the BAA-wide work, retaining Heathrow and paving the way for Eye to become a bigger force on these shores.
'TfL says it is moving towards a partnership model, taking on more of the risk but more of the cash too'
Because CBS Outdoor, as it became, was part of the hugely profitable CBS Corporation, TfL had a right to all of the cash promised. But it was hardly a long-term strategy to continue working with a business that was losing money every day. With the help of some expensive lawyers, the pair managed to find a resolution of sorts.
And, today, TfL and what is now known as Exterion Media are said to have an excellent day-to-day working relationship, but the contract is nearing its end. TfL has decided to shake things up a bit.
Whereas, under the current contract, Viacom/CBS/Exterion has owned, installed and maintained the outdoor sites, now TfL wants skin in that game too. Who knows better how to maintain infrastructure on the Tube than TfL itself? It is a sensible move but also reflective of the legal claim CBS made that argued a lack of access had hit its revenues. Graeme Craig, TfL’s commercial development director, says the plans are about moving towards a partnership model, with the body taking on more of the risk but potentially more of the cash too.
With deals such as Buxton’s sponsorship of Canada Water for the London Marathon last month and Notonthehighstreet.com’s support of the "Baby on board" badges, TfL is really upping its commercial game. This is also evident in Underground stations, where fancy coffee kiosks are popping up across the West End. More and varied opportunities on the Tube will be great for brands. But everyone involved needs to make sure the public is brought along too. As Protein World has found, people will be very quick to say if they’re not.