Why outdoor must keep its feet on the ground

Outdoor advertising is innovative and visible, and looks set to ride out any recession. But contractors must not become complacent.

Newly released Outdoor Advertising Association (OAA) figures for the first quarter of 2001 make interesting reading for agencies, clients and media owners alike. What will be a surprise to many people outside the outdoor sector, is that the OAA recorded a 19 per cent increase in revenue on the same period last year. This may seem strange, as over the past few weeks there has been lots of talk about “downturns” and “slowdowns” in overall media spending.

One reason for this growth might be the continuing importance placed on consumer marketing, and the need for media to deliver “brand fame”. It is an old story, but the reality is that as media continues to fragment, only outdoor has the confidence to stand up and offer a consistent platform for the delivery of quality messages. This is highlighted by the significant investment being made by contractors to improve the quality of their products. Whether it is scrolling backlights, 80ft supersites, or 3-D six-sheets, outdoor advertising is looking better than ever, and more top-spending advertisers are being persuaded to invest.

These first-quarter figures give us a clue as to what lies behind the growth. Much of the investment in this period was made in the final months of last year and has led to booking deadlines increasing, as advertisers move early to secure premium space. Also, the much publicised May election will have moved some clients’ campaigns forward into March in order to avoid the potential political clutter of April. The change of date will no doubt have an effect on the market in the second quarter.

Although all seems rosy, a closer look at how all formats have performed suggests that the number of panels unsold has actually increased from last year by up to five per cent. Proof that while many products were in demand, there were, and still are, short term value opportunities available.

Finally, we are all wary of playing up any potential advertising slump, and quite rightly so, but it is important that outdoor media owners look outside the “outdoor world”. The danger is that the wrong approach may mean that the bigger picture is forgotten or, even worse, ignored. Outdoor could start to lose out, as other media approach the forthcoming months with greater realism.

Key contractors have achieved varying levels of price inflation, “justified” by their product investment and driven by their owners. However, now is the time for these same contractors to really deliver, through accountable, high value campaigns. In short, outdoor must ensure that it builds on a good start to the year by adopting a positive, but flexible approach to the future. If advertising revenue does continue to slow, agencies and clients will demand clear evidence that outdoor can deliver unique benefits as well as rewarding investors with real value.

Steve Parker is head of outdoor, Starcom Motive

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