Special Report: Out-Of-Home Media: How outdoor is preparing for the world of tomorrow

Fragmentation of the media marketplace and the changing relationship between media buyers and sellers has accelerated rapidly over the past few years, bringing with it a reorientation in the thinking of both media buyers and sellers, not to mention clients,...

Fragmentation of the media marketplace and the changing relationship between media buyers and sellers has accelerated rapidly over the past few years, bringing with it a reorientation in the thinking of both media buyers and sellers, not to mention clients, who are becoming more involved in the media.

One medium that has been at the centre of this story longer than most is outdoor. Outdoor began as the first deliverer of mass media at the turn of the century when advertising was being invented. Then it became pushed into the background with the advent of newspapers, radio, magazines and particularly television.

But now that these so-called mass media have become cut into so many specialized niche market pieces through technological innovations such as cable, fibre optics and desktop publishing, there are some who suggest that outdoor will be reassuming its position as the dominant remaining mass medium.

No one knows this story better than Brian McLean, president of Mediacom, who has just celebrated 25 years with the company. The notion of adding value is something the outdoor medium has been living with since long before the term came into vogue.

Strategy invited McLean to share his thoughts on changing relationships and how he is preparing for tomorrow’s world.

The term re-inventing, or re-engineering may be relatively new to many companies, but it’s something we’ve been living with at Mediacom for at least three years. For us it goes back to 1991 when we lost tobacco advertising over and above a slowdown in the economy. It was a devastating time. It forced us into changing procedures, systems and processes throughout the company.

Re-examination

And with that came a complete re-examination of the way we look at our customers and the relationships we have with everyone.

The result of all this introspection is a North American-wide program that we call Pride. It amounts to a complete re-evluation of the way we do business.

Over the past couple of months we’ve done extensive research and focus group testing with people who buy from us, and one of the important changes that has come out of this process is a decision to segment our customers into two categories. There are those who still require what we call a transactional relationship – which is largely based on price and speed of delivery – but increasingly, those customers with whom we have a ‘discovery’ relationship.

Innovative solutions

The discovery customers are those who require imaginative and innovative solutions. That means that we have to go into meetings with these customers to uncover what their true business problems are, and then come back with our own solutions.

That’s the kind of thinking we are trying to inject into all of our front line people. For those customers who still want to talk only about price, we will have the people who can respond.

But I believe there will be less and less of that going on. In fact, I can see a time coming when the transactional customer won’t even exist because we will bring so much to the table in terms of ideas and solutions. Real answers to real business problems.

In that scenario, the discussion won’t be about price at all. It will have moved onto a whole new plain.

hat we considered to be `value-added’ two years ago, which boiled down to turning things around quickly and doing things in five days when it used to take five weeks, is now just the price of entry. Being able to say we’ve got speed, operational excellence and a 1-800 number, were exciting and revolutionary things two years ago. Those are now the base line. They are no longer value-added. They are expected.

The challenge today for us, and I guess any other business, is to keep building on what you’ve got, and then coming up with products and services that your customers haven’t even thought of yet.

Creativity is not just something that comes out of an agency creative department. Today, you simply cannot afford not to listen to everyone who’s involved in the advertising and marketing process.

e’ve never had so many open doors as we have today.

But if you’re going to be welcomed more than once into these increasingly opened doors, then you’ve got to have something to say.

Ten years ago the agencies reacted, generally speaking, pretty negatively to us going directy to their clients. But then, as agencies became more secure and saw us not only bringing an added value, but also keeping them informed of things that they needed to know, a true partnership began to develop between us.

The truth is, we really are the allies of agencies. The biggest enemy to advertising is what’s going on in the trade and the private label business. It’s left clients with less money to advertise. So any stimulus that could be provided at the client level to get them spending money on advertising is welcomed.

hen (Labatt Breweries President) Hugo Powell delivered his wake-up call to ad agencies a couple of years ago, and he said, `Don’t bring us schmoozers.’ `Don’t bring us handlers.’ `Just bring us people with ideas and people who can really contribute,’ we heard our name being called. We don’t differentiate ourselves from agencies. We see ourselves right up there on the front line with agencies.

Yes, they are the conduit through which we operate, and they are obviously important to us. But we see ourselves working hand-in-hand with them towards a common goal, and that is building our clients’ businesses through advertising.

If anything, I see this relationship building.

s far as the media getting together in strategic alliances to help promote advertising and advertising solutions for clients, I’d say that sounds great in theory but is difficult to bring to reality. We’ve had a lot of meetings with people in most of the other media and we’ve gone as far as a show-and-tell for each other, and we’ve talked about special events that can link in together with clients. But I have yet to see it bear real fruit.

A lot of parochialism

I’ve seen a couple of our competitors link up with radio, and I’ve seen others talk about multi-media presentations. But when it gets down to practicality, it becomes very difficult to adjudicate who gets credit for what, and what’s really new business, and so on. There’s still a lot of parochialism down in the rank and file at the sales level that makes a real and meaningful alliance (among media) difficult to bring about.

e’ve been working at the packaged goods business for a lot of years, going back to the 1980s when we saw that tobacco advertising was heading for trouble. But we also knew we had to broaden our base. I think we’ve been helped to some extent by the fragmentation of the television market. I think it made a lot of people start investigating other media.

They began asking themselves, what do we really know about outdoor, or print? What else is there out there?

So I think the climate is much more receptive to new ideas.

I think that as people come out looking at other media with a refreshed perspective, they begin to see the entire marketplace in a different light.

In this new light, for instance, there may be people who view outdoor as the last mass medium. Or as a medium that can own reach. Or as one of the best targetted neighborhood media that a client can have, now that we’re into geodemographic marketing and mapping programs.

Ubiquitous is a word that applies to our medium, and I’m not just talking about Mediacom products. Whether it’s a billboard, a transit shelter, the side of a bus or the side of a building. You can send a message out there using the outdoor medium and own the town.

An advertising message can become an event, an occurrence.

When ciss-fm launched its new station last year, it had 945 impressions out there. Superboards, posters and shelters all at the same time. It was phenomenal. It demonstrated a point that I’ve been trying to make in this business for 20 years, ever since I went over to Europe and saw what can happen in, say, Paris overnight.

You get up in the morning and overnight an explosion has occurred. Everywhere you go on the street there is this event. It can be anything. A new razor from Gillette, or a new perfume, or a new appliance.

That’s the potential of the medium, and the power of advertising.

ooking back over 25 years in this business, I would say that the biggest difference is back then we were pretty good at finding ways to say, ‘No.’ And, ‘We don’t do it that way.’

When I was a kid on the street the easy part was selling the space. The hard part was getting it delivered. Fighting internally. It was all about attitudes. We had rules and regulations.

Attitudinally we had to change, but I guess that’s been universal among all businesses.

As Pogo said, ‘We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us.’ And it really was.

In fact, when we embarked on our Genesis program three years ago, I used that cartoon. I said everywhere we looked we were shooting ourselves in the foot. There were silos of activity and process throughout the company, none of which knew what the other was doing.

Now, it’s all about enlightenment and that overworked word, empowerment. It means that we as managers must surrender much of our decision-making authority and give it to people on the front line.

It’s all about making people care about what they’re doing. When you can make that happen, when you can get people working towards a common purpose and feeling good about getting there, you can make anything happen.