Opinion: Commission is a small part of outdoor’s bigger picture - Contractors can no longer afford to ignore the issues that concern advertisers the most; if they do, their valued clients will be voting with their feet. By Alan Simmons

Reading the sensational coverage given to agency commission levels in outdoor, you would think this is the main issue in our successful and growing medium.

Reading the sensational coverage given to agency commission levels

in outdoor, you would think this is the main issue in our successful and

growing medium.

However, this hype is deflecting attention from those things that really

matter to all our paymasters - the advertisers.

The message we are hearing from advertisers is that outdoor’s commission

structure was addressed fully three years ago.

There are plenty of other things they do take issue with and media

ownership plus media inflation is highest on their agenda.

It’s easy to see why, as the more laissez-faire regulatory stance taken

by the Office of Fair Trading towards outdoor has resulted in virtual

duopolies in each key format. Of 48-sheet sites, 64 per cent are owned

by Mills and Allen and Maiden - two contractors whose recent ’joint

marketing initiatives’ have revealed a level of co-operation that

aggravates advertisers’ unease about lack of media competition.

These two contractors, along with More O’Ferrall, control more than

two-thirds of 96-sheets. TDI now dominates the bus market and more than

80 per cent of six-sheets are controlled by the More Group (Adshel) and

J. C. Decaux. Duopolies cause advertiser frustration when inflexible,

package-based selling creates site duplication and forces up entry


Contractor mergers are motivated by an urge to increase sales and reduce

overheads. Advertisers accept this as long as they still get value for

money, but they object to rate inflation accelerating in the wake of

media owner consolidation.

Over the past three years, rates on 96-sheets have vaulted by almost 50

per cent; 48-sheets by just over 40 per cent, six-sheets by 28 per cent

and regional bus rates have nearly doubled. Maiden has just reported

pre-tax profits up 250 per cent to pounds 7.95 million.

Contractors have invested heavily to improve panel quality, but with

rate and revenue figures like these, advertisers dislike the prospect of

price hikes. If they vote with their feet we will be the losers.

Another issue high on advertisers’ list of concerns is audience


With Postar now one year old I hear many of them asking: ’What has it

ever done for us?’ Promises made at its launch, in good faith

admittedly, have not been fulfilled.

While there are good reasons for this, advertisers have not been kept

informed and ignorance for them is not bliss. Without a currency in the

outdoor market, advertisers cannot make value judgments which adds to

their frustation when confronted with increasing cost.

Another genuine issue causing client concern is campaign validation.

On top of their media spend advertisers are obliged to pay for

independent campaign verification that their ads are actually being

posted correctly up and down the country.

For many years contractors have been promising barcoding of sites but

advertisers have yet to see the benefit. Surely the onus is on the media

owner to provide the necessary reassurance to the advertiser?

Finally, tobacco advertisers have been threatened by a total ban under a

Labour government. Alcohol and confectionery may be the next in


Clients are looking for support here and are concerned that outdoor

media owners lack the will to lobby on their behalf.

Many advertisers feel outdoor contractors should act collectively to

clean up ’bad taste’ posters and avoid the threat of potentially

damaging statutory regulation. The call by the Advertising Standards

Authority for greater sensitivity to public opinion in the portrayal of

women will only heighten their expectations.

So clients feel that when contractors focus on commission they are

looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

Clients have the other end to their ’good eye’ and are rightly more

interested in the bigger picture.