OUTDOOR/AMBIENT: THE WORLD OUTSIDE - Consolidation has facilitated out of home campaigns on a global scale Jeremy Lee reveals the pros and cons

Legend has it that when Triumph Acclaim launched its European outdoor campaign, it had no idea its German billboards would be greeted with such a frosty reception. The campaign used the same copy throughout Europe, translating it into the respective language of individual countries. However, one possible translation of "Triumph Acclaim

in German is "Sieg Heil

so, unsurprisingly, the giant posters were a little too hard-hitting for comfort.

As multinational outdoor campaigns become more frequent, checking the copy for sensitivity to a local marketplace has become commonplace for today's global advertisers and agencies.

This is just one effect of international consolidation in the outdoor industry. As in other industries, consolidation has squeezed out the smaller companies, leaving only a few key global players controlling the market.

Consolidation has provided an opportunity for media owners to cut costs by packaging up their various assets. For advertisers, a huge benefit of this has meant that multinational outdoor campaigns are fast becoming a viable option.

JCDecaux and Unilever have already announced cross-border partnerships that hit the headlines, and pundits predict it is just a matter of time before others follow.

Nonetheless, the actual amount of revenue currently derived from cross-border selling has been small, and all three of the main outdoor media owners - Clear Channel, JCDecaux and Viacom Infinity - have embraced the opportunity with varying amounts of enthusiasm. All three claim it is the pressure from advertisers that has driven the market toward consolidation and cross-border selling.

JCDecaux was the first organisation to set up a division dedicated to selling to advertisers wanting a pan-regional presence. Its centralised buying point - One Stop Shop - was set up in 2000 and by the end of its first year it was contributing 1 per cent of the companies revenues.

"This may not sound a lot, but it amounts to something in the region of 15 million euros. I expect this to grow to around 5 per cent of the group's turnover,

Xavier Dupre, the managing director of One Stop Shop, says.

Its competitor, Viacom Outdoor, does not actively sell itself as a multinational media owner, but it does take business for advertisers such as Marlboro on an ad hoc basis. Its European marketing director, Mike Baker, says: "We're not set up to sell in this way at the moment but we do get asked to put packages together."

Baker says that, although demand from advertisers such as Levi's has helped to push these developments, most clients aren't geared up in this way.

"The structure of the majority of campaigns means that the marketing director in each country will be responsible for the advertising. The politics of employing someone to impose a pan-regional policy sometimes doesn't go down too well,

Baker says.

The final main player - Clear Channel International - has just created a central division for advertisers such as Alcatel and Clarks wanting to buy international campaigns. Headed by Robert Thurner, the group marketing director, the division is called Clear Channel Solutions and has hired Peta Corsan, formerly at Walker Media and Carat International, as its business development director. The idea is to work closely with advertisers to develop global campaigns.

The division was set up following pressure from advertisers and is designed to provide easier multiple market access.

One of the major issues behind creating a point where outdoor can be planned and bought is whether there is a consistency between the outdoor properties that are on offer. New formats, such as the square site, have been imported from different countries, but there is still a long way to go before there is any form of standardisation.

Thurner stresses that audiences and not just formats are key. "It's not just about buying the same poster across different countries. We give advertisers audience-specific data to help them plan their campaigns and this may or may not be with different formats,

he says.

Thurner and Baker stress that using their network of local offices provides the knowledge to make cross-border campaigns effective.

"Although offering a pan-regional sell, we rely on local expertise in each market. What works in one market won't in another,

Thurner says.

As well as the issue of using the right format, getting the creative right is also crucial.

"It's difficult but not impossible to find a strapline that works across different countries. What is important is making sure you respect the sensitivities of local markets,

Alan Simmons, the chairman of the outdoor specialist Concord and the Alban Group, advises. He adds that multinational campaigns are a natural evolution in advertising for many global clients.

"To global brands, the ability to efficiently mount multicountry promotions is becoming increasingly attractive as well as necessary,

he says.

As media owners embrace the efficiencies of cross-border selling and advertisers' marketing and media departments gear up to buying in this way, it is likely that we will see more business being done on a multi-national basis. Let's just hope we don't see any more faux pas along the lines of Triumph's "Sieg Heil