PERSPECTIVE: Furore over street furniture could be missing the point

For anyone with the slightest interest in poster advertising, the past few weeks have been rather fun.

For anyone with the slightest interest in poster advertising, the

past few weeks have been rather fun.

Outdoor, of course, has always been a medium that knows how to enjoy

itself (who could forget the gala dinner at this year’s Madrid


But since J. C. Decaux mounted its bid for More Group, the medium’s been

on a roll.

Forget, for the moment, the serious business of a potentially

monopolistic merger. Never has outdoor been more high profile.

For a medium that accounts for little over 5 per cent of adspend, you

can’t open a broadsheet these days without a Decaux/More story leaping

out. The respective PR machines have been in overdrive - and the papers

have lapped it up.

Then there’s been the repartee between the protagonists, More’s chief

executive, Roger Parry, and Decaux’s head, Jean-Francois Decaux. Mr

Parry has, it must be said, scored a few wonderfully deft soundbite

blows. My favourite is Roger’s remark that, if the Decaux takeover goes

through, More Group ’will be priding itself on running the world’s best

public toilet’.

The reference is, of course, to Decaux’s pre-eminence in providing

public conveniences, information boards, vending machines and the like -

public services as advertising vehicles. More famously, Decaux competes

with More on providing bus shelters to local authorities - and this is

the crux of the takeover issue.

As the Office of Fair Trading gets ready to decide whether street

furniture should be seen as a single market and whether a merger of More

and Decaux would create an unacceptable monopoly, PR efforts are

reaching fever pitch.

Last week, it emerged that agencies are willing to accept a merged

company as long as investment continues and ad rates are kept under


Advertisers, on the other hand, would prefer to have two companies vying

in the six-sheet market - spurring each other on to continue improving

their stock, ensuring competitive ad rates and offering local

authorities a choice when it comes to handing out their lucrative street

furniture contracts.

But can it really be argued that if the street furniture medium were to

be controlled by one company, advertisers could be held over a barrel

and forced to pay extortionate rates? Of course not. Street furniture is

but one medium. A highly effective medium, depending on your strategy,

but certainly not one without alternatives.

Yet amid all the press bruhaha over the takeover bid, few have stopped

to consider the impact a single company could have on local authorities

keen to maximise the income from street furniture contracts which will

hopefully be ploughed back into pblic services.

Let’s take a more public-spirited view for once and consider the

implications of a merger on our standards of community services.