SUPPLEMENT: EUROPEAN MEDIA; Why doesn’t the pan-Euro poster work?

Some agencies are ignoring the received wisdom that a pan-European poster campaign is fraught with difficulties - and they are being rewarded with good exposure and savings.

Some agencies are ignoring the received wisdom that a pan-European

poster campaign is fraught with difficulties - and they are being

rewarded with good exposure and savings.

Pan-European advertising campaigns are a bit like cold showers, a 15-

mile run, or learning an especially rigorous dialectic - everyone agrees

these things could be good for you; few actually get around to taking

the plunge.

But this could all be about to change, helped, perversely, by the trend

towards media fragmentation which means that wide-reaching media such as

posters are enjoying something of a renaissance. Even in this age of ‘me

media’, where companies are coming up with ever more ingenious ways of

targeting the individual and tailoring the message to fit this

particular socio-economic group or that sub-demographic, the need for

true mass-market media is all the stronger. Agencies don’t just need to

be able to target ads effectively, they also need to use the broad brush

strokes of a TV or poster campaign to add weight to their advertising.

The effects of this are already being felt. In the UK, expenditure on

outdoor over the past six months is more than a quarter up on the same

period last year, making it the country’s fastest-growing medium; a

similar story is emerging from Scandinavian and German markets.

In Europe overall, posters have snared an additional 1 per cent of total

advertising revenue over the past 18 months according to research by

Poster Publicity International, putting the medium’s share at around 6

per cent of the European total. In Belgium and Switzerland posters

represent around 13 per cent of the total adspend and more than 11 per

cent in France.

However, the rude health of the medium in many of its individual markets

has not yet developed to include pan-European campaigns. There are

several reasons for this.

‘The problems of a pan-European poster campaign are multi-faceted,’ Paul

Longhurst, the executive media director of Ammirati Puris Lintas,

explains. ‘They all stem from the need to get agreement with clients who

are in central control. That wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the

fact that most big clients are structured locally, at least in terms of

profit, and so tend to want to make their own media decisions locally.

If you are going to get a campaign off the ground, you have got to get

everybody working together and you’ve got to persuade them to put all

their money into a central pot, which is pretty tough.’

It doesn’t help that there are no truly pan-European packages currently

on offer from the contractors, albeit for the good reason that no one

contractor can claim to offer satisfactory coverage.

‘We post 150,000 panels every week in 13 countries across Europe, but I

couldn’t pretend to offer a pan-European package,’ says Neil Eddleston,

the marketing and research director of the France-based bus shelter and

street furniture contractor, J. C. Decaux. ‘Scandinavian packages we

could handle, campaigns across the Benelux countries we could handle,

but not in any real sense could we claim to handle a comprehensive

European package.’

Nevertheless, Decaux is making some progress along that road. It

publishes a European ratecard which details the number of panels it

operates, the coverage in the largest cities and the cost per network.

Coverage ranges from 100 per cent of cities with a population greater

than 100,000 in countries such as France, Portugal and Finland, down to

30 per cent in the UK and 25 per cent in Spain.

Roger Parry, chief executive of the UK company, More O’Ferrall, which

also has operations in Norway, Belgium and France, thinks there will

have to be more evidence of demand from clients for such campaigns

before contractors like his own go much further. ‘We really don’t get

that many inquiries about putting together campaigns across European

markets, and we couldn’t really offer a better deal centrally than such

clients could have got in individual countries, because the logistical

barriers are still huge at the moment.’

These logistical problems do appear, if not quite intractable, at least

a major impediment to progress. Posters tend to be of different sizes in

the various markets, and in the rare instances that there are standards

- as in the case of Decaux’s Citilite and the Adshel from More O’Ferrall

- it is usually where the companies are in competition for local

authority contracts and hardly likely to be amenable to the idea of

joint selling.

‘For a pan-European campaign you need to agree on one coherent creative

direction at the outset,’ Longhurst says, ‘which can be a problem if you

are after different slants in different markets or if your product has

different names across Europe. Similarly, you may need to get copy

translated. None of these things is of itself a problem but they all

take time and money to sort out and you could soon lose the cost savings

that attracted you to the idea of a pan-European campaign in the first


Contractors are aware of these problems and are trying to come up with

solutions. Europoster is a pan-European marketing and selling operation

run by the French giant, Avenir, the parent company of Mills and Allen

in the UK and the largest poster contractor in Europe.

‘My role here has mostly been to help facilitate information for

agencies rather than actually sell pan-European campaigns,’ Marielle

Moulard, the London-based marketing chief of Europoster, explains.

‘Avenir is prepared to take a long-term view and to help to build up

relationships. So if someone just wants to know the price and

availability of sites in Prague, for example, we can help, not just with

sites but with everything and we can improve their market knowledge,

which will benefit the medium as a whole and Europoster in the long


Certainly, the few clients who have braved the complexities of planning

a European campaign have been rewarded. US companies in particular have

used London as a beachhead for pan-European poster operations with

encouraging results. Currently running well is a 17-country campaign for

Western Union targeting tourists. A multilingual strapline and

straightforward creative solution have helped sidestep some of the more

obvious pitfalls, and the financial benefits from this kind of campaign

can be substantial.

‘Two years ago we bought a campaign to launch the Flintstones film in

22 countries across Europe, and managed to achieve media savings of

around 45 per cent through economies of scale,’ Michael Segrue, the

International director of Poster Publicity, says. ‘People talk about

logistical problems, and admittedly, we did have to use 11 different

poster sizes, but the production costs of outdoor are so much lower than

other media and you can use your bulk to negotiate with the printers so

that’s not really a problem.’

The lack of coherent research across Europe is another story. ‘We have

to hold our hands up and say that good, accountable research like we

have in the UK with Postar is something we just don’t have across

Europe,’ Vivienne Titmuss, an account director at Posterscope, admits.

‘But we would argue that this is where the expertise of the specialist

comes in and why having a good force in the field and making sites

visits and pre-campaign inspections are so important.’

‘Research is a further barrier because there are different research

standards in every country,’ Parry comments, ‘and while systems in the

UK and France, for example, are very good, they are less comprehensive

in other markets. The only immediate changes will be if individual

countries can improve their research, but it will still all be organised

on a country-by-country basis, making it difficult to make comparisons.

This situation works against pan-European campaigns.’

One area of outdoor that would seem to lend itself more easily to pan-

European campaigns is airport advertising. There is considerable

research about traffic flows and demographics but the fact is that the

top 15 airports in Europe are run by 13 different concessionaires. A

standard European campaign, including Scandinavia, can take around 25

different calls to book. As in the rest of the outdoor market, there are

pockets dominated by individual contractors - AP Systeme represents more

than 80 European airports including all 62 in France - but no two or

three contractors are in a position to offer a truly pan-European deal.

Availability can be a problem as well, with some of the busiest airports

having long waiting lists. However, some progress has been made. ‘The

concessionaires used to rent out sites for a full year, but have now

moved typically to a one-month posting period which has helped

enormously,’ Segrue says. ‘It means that airports can be used as part of

a launch campaign for your laptop or mobile phone or whatever, and are

no longer only suitable for large corporate ads or as support for the

duty-free facilities. And, as airports are refurbished, we are seeing

more standardisation of the sites, again making everyone’s lives


But then airport advertising represents a little under 10 per cent of

the outdoor market as a whole across Europe, Segrue believes. The real

battleground for the pan-European pound is on roadsides and in towns and

cities across the Continent. It may take a fair bit of organising and

there may well be considerable logistical problems about the size of the

posters and the language of the copy, not to mention physically posting

the campaign, but the fact is that pan-European campaigns can still

offer a saving and, in a time of ever increasing fragmentation, can

still make an impressive splash.

‘There are plenty of inquiries from companies that lead nowhere and

there’s a lot of wasted legwork involved in trying to get the right

people involved. Overall, a lot of things need to be organised better,’

Segrue concludes, ‘but I think I’ve booked around 11 pan-European

campaigns for at least 20 countries, and all of them have subsequently

wanted to use posters as part of their advertising mix.’


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