No-one likes a downturn and you'd be mad to welcome a full-blown
recession - but some media owners have less to fear than others.
Take the poster contractors. When a downturn comes along, unit costs
leap to the top of the advertiser agenda - and when that happens,
outdoor (and other "secondary" media, such as radio and cinema) starts
to look very attractive. The medium's raw cost per thousand is in the
region of £1.40, compared with an average in TV of £7.40 - a
price differential of more than 500 per cent.
A decade ago, outdoor contractors worked similar numbers effectively and
although the medium took a hit along with the rest of the market, it was
a comparatively mild hit and the sector came out of recession with an
increased market share. This time, say some, it's poised to make an even
greater leap forward - because, leaving aside cost, it's in even better
shape than it was back then.
Ten years ago, the market comprised a load of provincial and often
amateurish contractors who, basically, fought over booze and fags spend.
Now the market has consolidated along international lines and is
dominated by four big, professionally run media owners: JCDecaux, More
Group, which is owned by Clear Channel, TDI, which rebranded in May as
Viacom Outdoor, reflecting its ownership by the US media giant, and
Maiden, an independent.
Consolidation has brought investment and professionalism and advertisers
have bought into the benefits. In the past decade, its customer base has
widened out of all recognition.
Can outdoor once again make the most of a downturn? "Why not?" Stevie
Spring, the chief executive of More Group, responds. "When advertisers
try outdoor as a proper branded medium - not just for launches, an
afterthought or campaign makeweight - they tend to come back for more
because they see that it works. And the fact is that 90 per cent of the
top 250 advertisers are now using outdoor as a central plank of their
branded advertising strategy."
Times may be tough in the short term, but outdoor may have one of its
long-term ambitions in its sights: a display advertising market share of
10 per cent. It's currently at around 8 per cent but in some market
sectors (such as, almost incredibly, FMCG), outdoor has already been
taking a share of about 9 per cent.
Some observers advise caution, however. They point out that the TV
market is more competitive and diverse this time around and it's
possibly in a more depressed state - so the price differential may not
be as blatant.
On the other hand, as Nigel Mansell, the managing director of the
specialist buyer Concord, points out, advertisers have been squabbling
with television contractors, particularly ITV, for the best part of a
decade now, and they're no longer tied into the punitive share deals of
the late 80s.
He comments: "Most of the major outdoor players are still predicting
revenue growth through the fourth quarter. What's happening is that for
many advertisers, outdoor has become their primary broadcast
Improving quality of plant is a huge factor and consolidation continues
to drive this: when newly acquired inventory is rebranded, the very
least that happens is that the sites get a new lick of paint. But the
big players have also been investing in new technology, such as
scrolling 48-sheets and electronic screens. The medium has entered a
Consolidation in the UK has all but run its course for the time being
(the biggest ongoing speculation obviously concerns the future of
Maiden) and this year has mainly been about bedding down deals and
tidying up the loose ends - for instance, Decaux's rebranding of the
Mills & Allen sites.
On the other hand, as Mike Segrue, a managing partner of Poster
Publicity International, explains, the international dimension will
continue to impact on the UK. He states: "Germany, for instance, is
going to become a real battleground. As yet, it's still dominated by
small, family owned companies. And then there's the whole of
Asia-Pacific and Latin America.
If you take an international perspective, consolidation is still in its
"The big three already account for a third of the world's total
out-of-home market, which is significant - and it's a figure that would
be staggering in other media sectors - but there's probably some way to
go. We're putting together a network to reflect the leverage that they
have - we may not be able to match their power but we can try to match
their coverage - and to do centralised deals."
Even media owners - which, in the past, have viewed cross-border deals
as no more than ploys to leverage more discount - now concede that this
is all an inevitable consequence of globalisation.
So it's all looking pretty optimistic, isn't it? Media owners have even
begun to address advertisers' biggest traditional anxieties about
outdoor - its poor quality of audience research and its lack of
Spenser Berwin, the group sales director at JCDecaux, comments: "Over
the past year the amount of research we have done in the medium in
general, and here in particular, has been monumental. I'd challenge
anyone who really knows this industry to show us where we've been
lacking when it comes to research."
David Pugh, Maiden Outdoor's managing director of marketing and sales,
is similarly upbeat on this topic: "The launch of Postar Lite (a desktop
version of the medium's audience research and campaign planning data)
was a huge step forward," he says.
So where's the catch? There has to be something worrying the medium -
aside, that is, from the recession. Not really, Spring responds: "Our
only real concern, especially with ambient growing the way it is, is
Anybody who has sizeable numbers of people going through or going past
their door is looking to out-of-home ad revenue as an additional revenue
stream. The danger with all this activity is that it could become more
like a classified than a display medium."
But there is a rather more bleak recession scenario doing the
It's outlined by Segrue: "The downside is the question of what happens
in the future when outdoor media owners are all subsidiaries of big
multimedia corporations. By definition, outdoor will be the most
insignificant medium they own.
"So what happens in a really tough downturn? Which media do they spend
the most resources defending? And which the least? The worry in some
people's minds is that in tough times, they'd let outdoor fall into
So while consolidation might currently be delivering a better product, I
think everyone can see the danger that we might end up with a worse
product than we'd otherwise have. Let's just hope it doesn't
TRANSVISION: ENGAGING COMMUTERS
Most train passengers spend an average of 16 minutes on a station
concourse, making them receptive to advertising messages during that
TransVision on Maiden sites works by showing a rolling eight-minute
programme of constantly updated news and information from ITN,
interspersed with ads. Typically, there are seven of these programmes
every hour. In June 2001, Continental Research conducted an extensive
study of TransVision. The aim of the study was to quantify the level of
impact of the site and to investigate how people were relating to
Two hundred interviews were carried out at Victoria Station over a
ten-day period among regular rail users. Continental Research recorded a
positive attitude towards the screen in terms of both aesthetics and
content: 61 per cent showed spontaneous awareness of the TransVision
site and 67 per cent displayed high awareness of ads as part of the
Overall attitudes to the screen were very positive, with 90 per cent of
all respondents agreeing that it provides useful information. What's
more, ITN's presence engendered positive attitudes towards the brand. By
involving people in this way, it is likely that they are more receptive
OVERALL ATTITUDE TO SCREEN CONTENT (%)
Eye-catching and impactful 27
Positive mention of news/headlines 26
Good/good idea 26
Would like wider range of ads 11
Criticism of screen content 11
Passes the time 8
Weather forecast 5
Sports coverage 4
Mention of Parliament/cabinet news 2
Don't know 2
Base: all respondents (194).
Source: Continental Research for Maiden.
Agree Agree Mean
Provides useful info 39 51 4.3
Makes waiting for train less boring 39 48 4.2
Good place for screen 39 48 4.2
Brightens up environment 46 39 4.1
Clutters up the station 7 2 1.9
Base: all respondents (194).
Source: Continental Research for Maiden.
HAS POSTAR LITE GOT MIGHT? - Clare Conley asks if Postar Lite is the
answer to the outdoor industry's prayers.
Postar Lite is a good idea in principle for those who know about it and
use it - and therein lies the problem. Most of the target audience of
media agencies and clients still rely on outdoor specialists to supply
the information supposedly ready at their fingertips online.
The aim of Postar Lite, a summary version of the heavyweight research
tool Postar, is to provide easily accessible information that
non-specialists can use in the early campaign planning stages to create
a better brief, free of charge. This should push outdoor as a medium
higher up the agenda for planners and clients alike, ultimately leading
to the outdoor industry overtaking its current 8 per cent share of
display revenue to meet the 10 per cent target it has set itself.
Launched at the Outdoor Advertising Association's conference in
Barcelona five months ago, admittedly it is still early days for Postar
Lite. And the fears of specialist outdoor agencies anxious it would
result in a loss of business for them have so far proved to be
unfounded. First, because not many media agencies and clients appear to
be using the tool themselves; second, those that do still need to get
figures from outdoor specialists who pay to use Postar, so that the
projections make sense. And third, specialists are still needed to carry
out the complicated buying process involving multiple contractors per
More marketing is needed, Peter Whelan,the head of outdoor media at
Outdoor MediaCom, says. But he believes Postar Lite is fundamentally a
good research tool. He says: "Awareness of Postar Lite is not as good as
it should be and a lot more marketing is needed. It is a bonus for any
agency, giving information on cover and frequency that allows them to
develop briefs more, but people are not using it. They will still turn
to specialists even for the basics."
David McEvoy, the marketing director of JCDecaux, which launched ten-day
campaigns as a response to the introduction of Postar Lite, adds his
voice to the call for more marketing.
"As an industry we haven't marketed our audience research as well as we
could. We have spent money on improving the product but not telling
people about it," he explains.
Clients and agencies are using the site regularly, according to Postar's
managing director, Helen Tridgell, who adds that users are asked to
register, but declines to give any numbers of registrations. Evidence
that Postar Lite may have contributed to the growth of outdoor's share
of the market is also anecdotal.
"It will add to the general increase in confidence. It's not about
showing that it has generated 'X' amount of revenue but rather it will
contribute to the whole trend of increased revenue," Annie Rickard, the
chief executive of PosterScope and chairman of the newly created IPA
Outdoor Committee, says.
A system such as Postar Lite is by nature evolutionary and Tridgell
admits that the site has been tweaked since its launch but claims the
adjustments were so small "you probably wouldn't know unless you were
using it everyday".
Bigger changes are on the agenda though, and Sue Cox has been appointed
as the training and development manager to visit member companies and
agencies to formulate a development plan over the next month, while
spreading the word about Postar Lite.
One of the drawbacks of the five-year-old Postar, which provides
information for the Lite version, is that it still covers only roadside
posters, which account for an estimated 80 per cent of all billboards.
However, at the Barcelona conference it was announced that Postar will
include more sites - supermarkets, buses and railways - by the end of
2002. Whelan says: "The development of Postar is one of the key issues
in outdoor as it tries to become more inclusive.
The trouble is, as outdoor grows in size, it will be a constant struggle
to update it."
Adding more sites is the next step, Tridgell says. And a new travel
survey will update the information Postar Lite provides about coverage
and frequency levels and pave the way to other forms of outdoor. A user
group, chaired by Posterscope's buying director, Mungo Knott, meets six
times a year to recommend developments for Postar. Tridgell adds: "We
want to make Postar Lite interactive so we can find out what people want
and develop it accordingly."
Improving the coverage and frequency level data should make Postar Lite
far easier to use, Steve Bond, the managing director of Posterscope,
says. Media agencies are only using the system "occasionally" and not
nearly as much as they could, he adds. "When planners start the process,
they need to know the numbers, generally provided by specialists as
market updates, to get to a particular coverage and frequency, which is
difficult. But on the whole, it is very user-friendly."
All these developments will help the outdoor industry in its
quest for greater accountability - to demonstrate its effectiveness to
both clients and media agencies. The outdoor industry has welcomed the
new Postar Lite and even altered its own offerings in response, in the
case of JCDecaux.
All who have tried it agree it is useful and has great promise, but
again the accusation is made that the outdoor industry tends to speak to
The question of how to promote Postar Lite, and outdoor media in a wider
sense, needs to be answered.
THE LOWDOWN ON POSTAR LITE
What is it? A web-enabled planning system using Postar data.
What does it contain? Listings of all the contractors' roadside sites by
size and region. A campaign planner with 31 target markets and a
facility to choose campaign period and month.
What do you do? Input your brief, add planning costs (which your
specialist will supply), press Submit and wait for the results.
Where can I find out more? Go to www.postar.co.uk.