Media Headliner: Crisp looks to broaden digital vision at Kinetic

By looking to the future, the new chief executive is ready to up the outdoor agency's game across Europe.

They do things differently in outdoor - as evidenced, some might say, by the speed of the events that led last week to the installation of Simon Crisp as the chief executive EMEA of the outdoor media specialist Kinetic.

In 2003, Crisp co-founded Adwalker, a company formed to develop a digital-era version of the sandwich board (basically a plastic bib with an embedded screen) and, in 2005, he led a successful flotation of the company on the London Stock Exchange.

However, although it had the input of a savvy board of directors, including Eric Newnham, the global chief executive of Kinetic, and Alan Rutherford, the former global media director of Unilever and, more recently, the president of Digitas, Adwalker was placed into provisional liquidation on 16 July 2009. The following Monday, 20 July, Crisp began work in his new role at Kinetic.

"We've worked well in the past," Crisp explains, referring to his relationship with Newnham, "and we're really just stepping it up from there. Kinetic was looking to replace David Payne (who'd crossed the Atlantic back in April to become the chief executive of Kinetic's US operation) and it was really fortuitous how the timing worked out. I really liked the team - no-one knows more about out-of-home than these people here - and there's a real fit with the entrepreneurial angle too. It was an attractive proposition."

Crisp learnt his trade in the Ogilvy & Mather media department in the late 80s (he was a "classic 80s TV time-buyer", former colleagues say), before joining MTV Europe as the client services director and moving thence to become the first chief marketing officer for the online gambling outfit Intrade in October 2000.

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, he's also rather keen to punt a digital angle here too. "What excites me about this job is there's just so much potential from the digital point of view. It's so untapped at the moment - we're only just skimming the surface," he says.

He predicts that digital will be a powerful driver of the business over the medium to long term, enabling out-of-home media to take an ever greater share of adspend. "The key to this is not just what's happening currently and the potential there is now, but also in understanding what the future is likely to bring in ten, 15 or even 20 years' time. It's about understanding how consumers will engage and adapt. It's important for us all to appreciate how joined up the digital world is going to be," he says.

That's as maybe - but, actually, his immediate focus at Kinetic is likely to be on less theoretical challenges. Although Kinetic, which was created in 2005 as the result of a joint venture between Poster Publicity and the WPP-owned Portland, has achieved real traction in the UK, accounting for around 40 per cent of the market, the international picture has remained, to say the least, patchy.

And that's certainly true of Crisp's new European fiefdom. Kinetic's market share in France is 15 per cent, it's 30 per cent in Germany, 24 per cent in Italy and a rather less than impressive 11 per cent in Spain. The reasons for this inconsistent (and, in some instances, hugely disappointing) showing are many. Some markets don't have a history of outdoor specialists, largely because they've resisted the generous (and often secretive) remuneration arrangements that make the business so lucrative in the UK. But still, there have been unsettling political machinations and turf wars within the WPP family over the years where this issue is concerned. WPP central management has been unable or unwilling to force all of its media agencies to use Kinetic as a matter of course in all territories.

Squaring some of those particular circles is going to prove a thought-provoking challenge - and, of course, there are those, not least in rival networks, who are sceptical about whether Crisp has really been given a genuine remit to take this on.

Nonsense, Crisp says: "Ultimately, the aim is to have the same strong position in every market. It's about making sure that each operation is in a position to grow. And it's also about making sure the tools we have, which are second to none, are pushed out across the network."

Interestingly, though, Kinetic may itself be arriving at a crossroads. The former Poster Publicity senior management team took the top Kinetic jobs in 2005, subject to earn-out agreements which mature on 31 December. There have been rumours that we're likely to see a generational clear out over the coming months.

Kinetic sources utterly dismiss such speculation, awkward as this may be for them in a week that saw it announce the departure of Mike Segrue, the global chief client officer and one of the aforementioned Poster Publicity veterans. In the short term, however, the only speculation surrounding Crisp is how well he'll readapt to life as a corporate salary man. Those who know him say he'll have no problems whatsoever.

Bill Kinlay, the chief executive of Mindshare in Ireland, concludes: "He's always had an incredibly entrepreneurial spirit, always coming up with ideas, business opportunities, ways to make a market. He's always had this incredible energy.

"But he's also flexible. And, as he showed at MTV, he's a good internationalist. He'll settle back in. And there will certainly be a focus for that energy because Kinetic is in expansionary mood."

Age: 40
Lives: Cork, Ireland
Family: Wife, two children and another due in August
Last book read: Enemy Number One by Patrick Vietch
All-time favourite outdoor ad: Any Economist ad
Most treasured possession: Sunday morning lie-in
Interests outside of work: Horse-racing and live music
Alternative career: Breakdancer
Motto: Better one day as a lion than a lifetime as a lamb