OUTDOOR/AMBIENT: ADDING UP OUTDOOR. Measurement tools not only offer accountability to advertisers investing in outdoor but can also improve agencies' planning abilities

In the old days, buying posters seemed a pretty ad hoc business. But times have changed, and with every other medium accommodating client and agency calls for more accountability, outdoor too has had to become more scientific with its research.

Postar was introduced six years ago and since then, new tools have been developed to help build confidence and investment in outdoor.

Many use Postar data as their basis and were created by poster specialists.

Clients and agencies have access to tools such as Prism, Roads, the Connect system and, more recently, Contact to help plan and implement campaigns (see box). The tools you use, however, depend on the poster specialist you go through.

Mike Moran, the commercial director at Toyota, appears to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the outdoor measurement tools he has access to but says that he feels the only one to guarantee independence is Postar. "The others do have someone behind them, who could be inclined to give you a particular slant,

he says.

Emily Hirshman, the associate director of outdoor at MediaCom, welcomes the developments in measuring effectiveness. "There's been more investment in the research data systems, such as Postar, and the launch of other systems by specialists. Ultimately this has led to a more sellable proposition to clients because they are more confident in what they are getting."

The tools are not perfect, however. Helen Beirne, the senior communications researcher at Carat Insight, is frustrated that Postar, for example, cannot measure all outdoor sites.

"At the moment you plan an outdoor campaign, and then plan retail and travel campaigns separately.

As a result, the research supplied by, for example, Viacom would have to be used to measure the effectiveness of travel sites. Jane Wolfson, the head of non-broadcast at Initiative Media, also feels that Postar can be quite subjective. "Yes, people walk past posters, but how do you know that they are taking any notice of them? Visibility adjusted impact (in other words, the likelihood to see) can be used for traffic, but can't account for how people walk and view things."

Postar is aware of its shortcomings when it comes to data outside of road sites, but Helen Tridgell, Postar's managing director, says that she hopes to make travel and retail sites comparable with Postar's existing research by the end of the year. "There may be three types of Postar - Postar Roadside, Postar Pedestrian and Postar Mobile. I see no reason why retail and travel sites should not be fused into Postar,

she says.

Many agencies rely on their poster specialists to do the homework in terms of measuring accountability, but those who do oversee the planning seem pretty impressed with the tools that are available to them. Hirshman is enthusiastic about the capabilities of Prism, the planning system available to Posterscope clients. "It's a very advanced system. It takes you through the planning process from start to finish and gives post-planning data.

It can work out what you want your distribution of poster sites to be, using a combination of share of voice and population. It helps you plan for a brand which has a regional bias and also if you want to do two bursts of advertising for a client it will show you the coverage you need,

Hirshman says.

Users of Roads and the Connect System are also glowing about their capabilities.

Several months ago, a new planning tool arrived on the outdoor scene called Contact, which was devised by Meridian Outdoor Advertising with Quaestor Research and aims to show how receptive consumers are to outdoor as an advertising medium.

Moran is enthusiastic about this new addition because it can be used to check against a planned campaign to make sure it is the most effective strategy. "There's a receptiveness rating and you can overlay on this the basic planning principles. You do the planning and use Contact as a check. Planners have found that it will occasionally mean they end up changing the original brief as a consequence of what Contact tells them."

Until Postar fuses retail and transport formats into its research, the main shortcoming of outdoor accountability will be the lack of a central audience measurement system. However, this change will dramatically improve outdoor's standing among agencies and clients, while the array of planning tools has transformed it into a more approachable medium.

Gareth Orr, an associate director at OMD UK, observes: "Postar and the other tools have given us planners the ammunition to experiment with different weights and campaign lengths."