Media Headliner: Can Punter become outdoor's new 'Godfather'?

In replacing Tom Goddard at CBS Outdoor International, Clive Punter has some pretty big shoes to fill.

When Campaign last profiled Clive Punter, back in 1998, he had just been promoted to the national sales director role at the outdoor company TDI. At the time, the Associated Newspaper-turned-outdoor man, played down his future in the business, saying: "I have a real commitment to the outdoor medium, but I'm not saying I'm going to do this until I retire. As long as it's interesting, I'll stick with it."

Now into his forties, it seems that Punter is still sticking with it as he prepares to step into the role of chief executive of CBS Outdoor International, formerly Viacom Outdoor. He says: "Outdoor is a brilliant part of the media industry to work in, the market has gone from strength to strength and it's got a phenomenal future. My 21- year apprenticeship in media has served me very well for the role I am in now."

CBS Outdoor, which was rebranded in January, has performed well in the UK in the past few years. The icing on the cake came last year when it retained the London Underground contract after a two-way shoot-out against JCDecaux.

While bedding in this contract will be the key focus for the UK business this year, Punter will be looking to grow the businesses internationally when he assumes the top job at the end of the month. He replaces Tom Goddard, who steps down to pursue his own business interests outside of the outdoor industry, and he has big shoes to fill.

Goddard, "the elder statesman, with laid back Irish charm" as one agency head described him, is well respected and credited with leading the company through 2006, one of its most challenging years. Tim Bleakley, the CBS Outdoor UK managing director, goes as far as to call Goddard "the Godfather". But Punter reckons he can stand comparison. He says: "The challenge for me is working out where we want to get to and how we are going to get there. My intention is to grow the business and develop it further.

"The past few years have seen a lot of development and Tom has done a great job at developing a very strong business. My goal is to really bond that team and get everyone focused on what the vision and goals are," Punter says.

Ask people what they make of Punter and they use words such as "serious", "ambitious" and driven" - perfect for a company driven by a serious US corporate culture. Jeremy Male, the chief executive of the UK and Northern Europe at JCDecaux, who first employed Punter at TDI, says: "He's very good with people, and he works hard at it, he's hard working and very ambitious - if it wasn't for his ginger hair, he'd be perfect."

Punter's commitment and work ethic sound relentless. Peter Charlton, the national sales director at CBS Outdoor, says: "No-one has been more dedicated to this company over the past ten years."

And Eric Newnham, the global chief of Kinetic, adds: "He's always been a smashing bloke and he's done well, he's probably got one of the biggest jobs in outdoor, but he needs to chill out a bit."

Punter spent ten years in sales at the Daily Mail, before joining TDI in 1996. He stayed with the company as it merged into Infinity Outdoor to become Viacom Outdoor and ran its operations in Europe and then Asia. He says this international experience was central to him landing the new role. "I think the benefit is that I have a pretty good understanding of three of our key regions in the world and I will be looking at the opportunities from a geographical and a sector point of view," he says.

While Punter says it's too early to talk about his growth strategy for the company, he adds that he's given himself eight weeks to create his vision and he's not ruling anything out: "Potentially we will be looking at acquisitions, but the existing business has grown very well organically, through contracts such as the London Underground.

"I think we have a very healthy business in transit and we've got a great business in the UK. If we found other areas that square with that, well, I'm not ruling it in or out at this point."

The key question the market asks is just what role the emerging Asian markets, particularly China, will play in CBS Outdoor's future. As one observer puts it: "It all depends where CBS wants to put its capital. It has invested in one small business in Beijing so far and hasn't made anything like the investment needed to really make waves in the market."

Punter says another key growth channel will be digital, which at the moment only represents a small part of the global outdoor business. He says: "There's a lot of talk about digital and at some point it's going to be big and it's going to have a fundamental effect on how we do business and propel the medium into the new dimension. Outdoor is a very strong medium and digital will enhance that going forward."

For now though, all eyes are on the London Underground contract and its digital roll-out, which began last week with digital panels at Paddington Station. "Clearly, CBS has made bold promises and it will be interesting to see what happens as it moves into digitalisation," Neil Jones, the managing director of Carat, who has known Punter for 20 years, says. "It is not the market leader in size, but it leads the way on innovation."

An assessment that fits Punter's long-term vision. "My goal isn't necessarily to be the biggest, but I want to lead the market," he says.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: Recently turned 40
Lives: Newbury, Berkshire
Family: Wife George; sons Thomas, six, and Wils, four
Most treasured possession: Atomic ski boots
Interests outside of work: Family, gym, skiing, Young Presidents
Organisation
Favourite outdoor ad: Wonderbra
Favourite site: Digital escalator panels at Paddington Tube station
Biggest achievement: Finding a great partner in George

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