Media Forum: Should Postar move faster?

Does Postar need to hasten change to achieve its oft-stated goals?

Postar doesn't quite have the profile of Barb, its equivalent in the TV market, or even Rajar in the radio business, but it still manages to attract its fair share of controversy now and again.

Much of it relates to a marker laid down after the survey's launch back in 1996. Weeks after it had come onstream, and before the mainstream roadside data was flowing to an acceptable standard, Richard Holliday (its first managing director) pledged that Postar's medium-term goal was to provide a currency for all forms of outdoor, not just traditional poster formats.

Sounds reasonable. But this pledge has been a hostage to fortune, especially as it has been repeated in greater detail and with more vehemence by subsequent Postar bosses. At last year's biennial outdoor industry beano in Barcelona, it was still being trotted out - though this time, we believed, with slightly more urgency than ever before.

Integration of other outdoor sectors was imminent, we were told, starting with transport. Experienced industry watchers counselled against anyone holding their breath. But, credit where it is due, information on some forms of transport advertising came trickling on to the system over the summer.

So, movement at last. Arguably, this is as good a time as any to implement a management reshuffle - and, indeed, last week Postar acquired a new managing director. He is James Whitmore, previously the managing director of Mediaedge:cia and, more recently, a director of the Experience start-up. He replaces Helen Tridgell, who left in August after five years in the role.

What challenges does he face? More particularly, should he now up the pace of change? After all, the medium is evolving rapidly these days - especially in the digital ambient sector. Isn't it time that was reflected in a little more urgency on the research side?

Whitmore responds that speed is not necessarily the main issue here.

He states: "The challenge is in part a behavioural one. We need to be confident, assertive, agenda setting, accessible and, as far as we can be, comprehensive. The ultimate goal will be to cover all forms of outdoor, from retail to digital. We have also to be open to ideas that are important to the future of the whole media landscape. For instance, we have to be aware that, in the future, the research community may want to look more at the ways that different media work together."

Carolyn Nugent, the strategic planning director of Kinetic, agrees that these issues are rarely black and white. She states: "Postar was not initially designed to cover transport and it has been a case of trying to integrate and make the most of media-owner research in this area. These things can get delayed. But I think everyone accepts that it will be a great step forward in our ability to look at the incremental cover that transport can add to a roadside campaign."

Advertisers will tell you privately that they continue to be disappointed by the behind-the-scenes squabbles between media owners they sense from time to time . Why, they ask, can't the industry be more consistent in its commitment to its basic trading currency?

Pete Edwards, the Starcom managing partner for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says he understands how difficult some of these decisions are. But that does not mean they can be ducked. He says: "Clearly we would like to see more integration and more up-to-date coverage of new formats, such as ambient. Yes, we can see why that might be difficult. If you are talking about a new opportunity that currently represents only 1 or 2 per cent of the market, it's not easy to design a measurement system that will work now and still be relevant as the market evolves over the next however many years. But, pragmatically, the medium has to make a call on that."

However, Steve Bond, the managing director of Posterscope, is not so sure. He agrees that Whitmore faces some major challenges in his new role but the research, he believes, is already evolving at just the right pace.

He states: "Transport is almost in place and it is continuing to evolve. I don't think there's a need for greater urgency. We must all concentrate our efforts on raising Postar's profile. Many agencies and advertisers are not very familiar with it - and that isn't good enough. We have to take away the mystique and improve knowledge about Postar's strengths as a planning tool. That has to be a priority for James Whitmore's first 100 days."

NO - James Whitmore, managing director, Postar

"The ultimate goal will be to cover all forms of outdoor but the important thing is not necessarily the speed at which we are committed to doing things. The important thing is to listen to what the end-users - advertisers and agencies - want. We have to agree a direction and a goal and indeed we may find that the existing mission is the right one."

MAYBE - Cathryn Nugent, strategic planning director, Kinetic

"Inclusivity as regards transport is taking a while but I think everyone understands that (importing the data) is not a technically easy thing to do. Longer term, the challenge is to add to that inclusivity to cover other non-traditional formats. The appointment of James Whitmore will hopefully speed that along."

YES - Pete Edwards, managing director, Starcom

"Of course things could happen quicker. The jury chairman at Campaign's poster awards said that some of the most interesting work (creatively) is to be found in the ambient sector. You could therefore argue that it is unfortunate for the outdoor medium that Postar doesn't measure ambient - because that is where the growth is going to come from."

NO - Steve Bond, managing director, Posterscope

"What we have in terms of Postar is almost spot-on and we are 110 per cent behind it. It needs a tweak rather than a major overhaul. A more important consideration is giving it a higher profile and making sure more people understand what it can do."

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