Plenty of room for print

With 35 years’ experience in outdoor advertising, oOh!media’s founder and CEO, Brendon Cook has seen it all when it comes to new trends in the out-of-home advertising industry. He was at the forefront when the printed billboard was the pinnacle of the industry, and now with the digital age well and truly upon us, he has become the driving force behind out-of-home’s growing digital strategy. 

This has led many to question print’s place in outdoor advertising as the industry moves forward. But if anyone can provide an insight into this burning question, it is Cook. It may or may not come as a surprise that Cook actually got his start in print; this was before his foray into outdoor advertising at the sparky age of 19. 

He says, “I spent two years working in printing and learnt the whole screen printing process. There were five particular roles; you spent three weeks in each one, working as if you were in that role. The whole idea being that you had a deep understanding of the process so when you were talking to people in a sales position, you really knew all about it.”  

In 1989 Cook founded oOh!media, which under his leadership, has just seen nine years of consecutive growth. The company attributes this to its acquisition strategy, as well as organic growth, and its innovative approach to creating digital advertising environments. 

Both oOh!media and its competitor, APN News & Media each hold 35 per cent of the outdoor advertising market share in Australia. The company currently operates 4000 billboards, has 9000 retail locations, and runs advertising within every Australian university, as well as 500 café locations and 300 building towers. Of this, 32 per cent of its revenue comes from digital advertising, which Cook expects will surge to 50 per cent by 2018. 

Embracing a digital strategy

Its digital growth strategy, known as The Signature Collection, has seen the company roll out $50m in digital billboards and interactive touch screen displays to date. The technology within these displays is capable of ‘dynamic targeted messaging’ which allows advertisers to update their product display in real time, relevant to weather, news, events or time of day. 

A digital billboard recently installed in Brisbane’s CBD possesses such technology, allowing it to display a ‘Good morning Brisbane’ message during the first part of the day, which then switches to ‘Good afternoon Brisbane, drive safely’ after midday.  

Charmaine Moldrich, CEO of the Outdoor Media Association, has stated she believes print and digital can co-exist, with each one enhancing the other, to which Cook agrees.

He likens print and digital to the competing values of television and radio, “They are both similar but different, just like how magazines and newspapers are similar but different. Out-of-home had static and now we have digital as well, and there are ways you can go in and use the two together.

“A McDonald’s campaign we ran some time ago now had various McDonald’s products that we had promoted, so there was a whole heap of static promotion, but with the digital side we did it around weather. So if the south of Perth was raining but the north of Perth was hot, we would have different messages being promoted, north Perth would have ice-cream advertised, south Perth had the burger.” 

Cook says oOh!media will to continue to combine the classic strengths of its original media, print, with the added flavour digital technology provides. With audience levels continuing to grow, he believes his strategic combination has steered out-of-home clear of the disruption television advertising is now facing.  

Print’s place in outdoor

Cook not only believes print and digital can co-exist, but says print will continue to have its own place in outdoor advertising. He explains that from a regulatory point of view, when it comes to billboards, not every sign can be made digital, and currently some of the most prime billboard locations cannot be digitised because a nearby road’s safety rules may prohibit it. Cook adds that in many cases, it is not cost effective to convert a static billboard to digital. 

Cook says printers can look to other industries which have faced digital disruption, and lived to tell the tale. Using retail as an example, he explains the number of online-only stores cropping up had traditional bricks and mortar retailers worried. But in the past few years, online stores have felt the need to also have a physical presence in order to cover all bases, a concept known as ‘total retail’. 

This is not unlike the disruption publishers faced when it appeared printed books were being pushed aside to make way for their digital counterparts, the iPad and the Kindle. But recent studies have found traditional print books are making a comeback, Cook refers to this as the ‘balancing value of print’, and believes the out-of-home industry will experience this too.

He says, “Just because we live in digital world, does not mean everything will be digital. I know myself, I have my Kindle, my iPad, but I still love my printed books and I am currently using all three.

“That is the reality, and I do not think out-of-home will be any different to that, you will get a blended reality of the two mediums, print and digital, and how they work together will be a key component in the future.”

Though Cook predicts the disruption of digital will have some impact on the industry, he says depending on which perspective printers choose to view it from, it could be considered positive or negative. Cook explains that a digital world has led to a growing immediacy within out-of-home, fed by the nature of which audience data is constantly changing.

Advertiser’s data is now allowing them to make last minute decisions, so to ensure their advertising reflects the most current data, they have started to provide their creative later. The consequence for printers is, they will have to provide a smarter, faster service with little notice. On the other hand, the immediacy of digital means campaigns will be run for shorter periods, and the changeover of campaigns will occur more frequently. Cook notes, “From a printing point of view, it means more printing, and that is where efficiencies in processes, systems and costs are going to become very key components for printers.” 

Looking forward 

The Outdoor Media Association reports Australia’s out-of-home revenue is still lagging behind the US and UK by 30 per cent. According to Cook, Australia’s product and data is equal to that provided by any other country around the world, but he admits population size has slowed down growth in this market.

However last year alone, oOh!media managed to bring in 390 clients who had never purchased outdoor advertising before, a figure which leaves Cook confident that revenue will continue to flow into the industry for the foreseeable future. 

Since going public in 2014, oOh!media has seen its revenue boosted by seven per cent for two years straight. In February, the company’s net profit surged, increasing by 56.8 per cent to $28.5m compared to $18m the year prior. Going forward, Cook says the company will continue to grow and will be rolling out more platforms to deliver the capability of digital, combined with the strength of print. 

To ensure the company continues to deliver ‘smarter’ campaigns, Cook says oOh!media must remain open minded to new technology, and warns printers should do the same. He says, “I think any industry in some way, shape or form is going to be disrupted by technology. But the brightest, the smartest, and the ones that invest in great print product will succeed and they will grow. 

“If you are not reinvesting in your product then you could be left behind.”

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