Media Headliner: JCDecaux is determined to be outdoor top dog

Outdoor is the only medium that is still growing, Jeremy Male, the chief executive of JCDecaux, reckons.

We stand chastened. In one of its comment pieces last week, Campaign had the temerity to adopt a slightly sceptical tone when casting its eye over the latest announcement from JCDecaux - that the company had won the contract to handle advertising on 50,000 BT phone boxes across the UK.

Phone boxes? Do they still exist? And if they do, does anyone in this mobile telecoms era actually use them? (Nefarious purposes aside.)

So when we had the gall to follow that up with a request to interview Jeremy Male, Decaux's chief executive, the UK and northern Europe, it became obvious that if he agreed, he would be rather keen to put us right on that one.

Particularly our use of the word "old-fashioned". "That comment was not hugely relevant," he states. "The opportunity is about the audience, both pedestrian and vehicular, that the kiosks deliver - and it's a young urban audience with money to spend. What's actually inside the kiosks is irrelevant."

As it happens, the win also stirred up a bit of a spat between Decaux and Clear Channel - which had previously held the contract. Clear Channel felt it owned this sector, having pumped in funds to rescue it from oblivion a couple of years back. So it was perhaps no surprise to see a piqued Clear Channel accusing Decaux of stealing the business by offering a ridiculously high rate of return on the contract - in effect "buying it in".

Other sources say the truth may be slightly less edifying for the outdoor medium as a whole - BT, apparently, had grown less than enamoured with Clear Channel in recent months. And indeed, the contractor, still the UK's market leader by revenue share, has had a rough old year of it, losing both its chief executive, Stevie Spring, and its managing director, Julie France.

The phone box contract is, you could argue, not worth losing sleep over - after all, it's worth a modest £15 million a year. But is it somewhat more important on a symbolic level? Does it signal a shift in the balance of power, with Decaux set to take over Clear Channel's mantle as undisputed top dog?

Male won't be drawn on that - but he does point out that in the UK, Decaux has grown every year since 2001. "We don't have any market share objectives, other than to say we like to be number one or number two in every market where we operate," he says.

(For the record, some estimates indicate Clear Channel remains number one with a 26 per cent revenue share, followed by Decaux on 24 per cent, CBS Outdoor on 23 per cent and Titan on 14 per cent.)

And, of course, it has not been all plain sailing for Decaux this year. Back in May, the company failed at the final hurdle to snatch the London Underground ten-year contract (worth a ten-year cumulative total of £1.2 billion, supposedly the largest outdoor advertising contact in the world) from the incumbent, CBS Outdoor.

This was not altogether unpredictable (although it was a close thing in the end), but still a disappointment for Male and his team. On the other hand, Decaux was able to hold on to one of its own flagship contracts, the BAA airport deal, including Heathrow, worth £500 million over five years. Just as CBS has big plans to introduce new digital technologies on its Underground inventory, Decaux will pioneer its own vision of the medium's digital future at Heathrow.

And as it happens, frequent flyer Male knows a thing or two about Heathrow. As the boss of Decaux across northern Europe, as well as (somewhat bizarrely) Australia too, he spends half his working life outside the UK, which is exhausting in itself and presumably rather irksome for such a devoted family man. But he is, according to those who know him, an archetype of the ferociously disciplined corporate executive - competitive, efficient and relentlessly organised.

The secret of his success, reckons Paul Shearring, the managing director of Kinetic, is his ability to delegate responsibility. "He's a strong character, very professional and statesman-like and he has put a fantastic management team in place. They do a very good job of day-to-day managing," he says.

"It's good that the outdoor industry is so professionally run these days and clients recognise it competes on a much more level playing field with other media than it perhaps did in the past. I think Jeremy is very much one of the people who've moved the business on."

But has it really moved on? A couple of years back, outdoor was the most bullish of the UK's media sectors. It had a simple yet compelling proposition - that out-of-home represented the last truly broadcast medium. And it made much of the fact it was on the threshold of fulfilling its historical destiny - breaking into double figures by commanding 10 per cent or more of the UK display ad market.

This year, though, we've seen upheaval not just at Clear Channel, but also at Maiden, which was acquired and rebranded by the US outfit Titan. Much of the gloss has come off outdoor, hasn't it?

Not a bit of it, Male responds. The outlook, he insists, remains bright: "Aside from June, which was tough for everyone, we've had a good year. It's the only medium [outside of the internet] that's still growing, and we're still knocking on the 10 per cent door. Not all of the news has been good, but the overall impression is still hugely positive, especially in terms of how outdoor is responding to the digital challenge. From where we're sitting, the market looks pretty strong."


Age 48

Lives: Oxshott, Surrey

Family: Wife, Jane, son, AJ, daughter, Sophie, three dogs, three cats

Most treasured possession: My car, before I sold it to Neil Jones

Favourite journey: Life

Last book read: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Best place to spend a relaxing afternoon Four Seasons, Jimbaran Bay, Bali

Motto: Bite off more than you can chew, then chew like fuck!


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