TDI puts buses into the fast lane

LTA’s takeover is now complete, and behind the new name is a new image, too

SBHD: LTA’s takeover is now complete, and behind the new name is a new image, too

Farewell LTA. As of this week London Transport Advertising is no more. It will now be known as TDI, named after the US public transport advertising parent which took over eight months ago. But the name change has less to do with ego, more to do with repositioning, says TDI chief executive officer Bill Apfelbaum. His avowed aim is to increase its share of the entire UK market “through new tenders and acquisitions”.

Apfelbaum is a man who talks transport advertising with an evangelical zeal. He turned TDI (US) around from a near bankrupt company into one where his personal stake is valued at $58m (£38m). Small wonder, then, that he is eager to stress the UK firm’s new identity. “There were negatives associated with the LTA name,” explains Apfelbaum. “There was an image of inflexibility and a slowness to react, that was all part of a giant bureaucracy – in other words, everything that TDI in the US isn’t.”

In just eight months, TDI has evolved from being London-based to a national business, which now has an estimated 34 per cent share of UK public transport advertising, with local bus contracts stretching from Scotland to the West Country. Following the privatisation of London’s ten bus firms, TDI retained seven contracts. Losses will be made up in gains elsewhere in the UK, TDI managing director Jeremy Male maintains. Its strategy has been to consolidate its position in the South-east and in recent months has won contracts for over 1,500 buses.

In the first six months of the new ownership, sales were up 30 per cent year on year. And the company claims it is on line for revenues of £30m in its first full year. “Some of this is due to the end of the recession,” believes Apfelbaum. “But by and large it has been the result of us doing a better job in marketing the medium.”

The company is developing new products and new services for advertisers – a computer mapping system comes on-line later this month. The system was pioneered by TDI in the US and involves mapping local areas by consumption of particular products using TGI data. Advertisers can target their ads by a particular bus route selected to reach either high, low or average consumers of their products.

“The aim is to promote transit advertising to the next level,” says Apfelbaum. “To grow through our London base by offering national – and international – advertisers packages across the UK. Bus advertising outside London should be doing double the business it is.”

These are brave words at a time of ongoing consolidation in UK transport advertising. The market is now dominated by three groups – Buspak, BTA and TDI – and each is jockeying for position. Only last month Buspak took over Metrobus Advertising, which handles the giant Badgerline bus advertising contract (MW March 17).

Apfelbaum does not rule out enlarging his own company through acquisition. TDI certainly has the cash resources to do so – its UK partner is Hambros. But for the time being, he stresses, the onus is on winning new contracts: “It’s about being the first guys through the door, working hardest for the money.”

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