In recent years the outdoor advertising industry has shifted away from its down-at-heel image with improved offerings and advances in technology.
One of the most surprising changes credited with boosting the sector’s image, is its ability to present a united front when campaigning for a larger slice of advertising budgets.
Recently, however, there has been a row brewing that highlights some of the splits the industry still faces. This time it is not the traditional pistols-at-dawn-style stand off between large rival contractors, but a dispute between industry body the Outdoor Advertising Association (OAA) and a handful of disgruntled out-of-home and ambient media companies.
Dismayed that the OAA is not addressing issues specific to out-of-home and ambient media businesses, these companies have created a new body – the Out-of-home Media Association (Oohma) – to address these concerns.
The OAA has a two-tier membership. Firstly, council members – consisting of the five large outdoor companies, including Viacom and Clear Channel. The second tier, or associate membership, which is not as expensive to join, is made up of the smaller poster companies such as Van Wagner, and banner advertisers such as Mega Profile.
The remaining companies are not members of the OAA for two reasons – cost and lack of representation.
The birth of Oohma, described by some as: “A lunch that got out of hand,” has met with a mixed response because it was announced just weeks before Alan James became the new OAA chairman.
“My brief when I took the role was to make the OAA a more inclusive, broader church,” says James. Later this week he will announce plans to introduce a third tier of membership, in order to encourage a broader membership. Hopefully one that encompasses the concerns of the companies which so far have felt excluded.
Oomah’s structure may still be a long way off completion, but it is an organisation that some, mostly outdoor buying specialists, say should have been created much sooner.
IPM joint managing director Nick Jarman says: “Anything that will provide policy and accountability is good news. Whether this is within the OAA or not.”
Jarman’s comments are echoed by Carol Kerman, outdoor chairman of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), who adds: “Our opinion is driven by what is in the best interest of advertisers. At IPA Outdoor we want to ensure there is full cooperation with Oohma.”
But not everyone is happy about the fact that Oohma is not being driven by the OAA. Posterscope client director Glen Wilson says: “I still feel that the ultimate goal here should be for collective representation.”
Maiden Outdoor’s managing director David Pugh adds: “From an OAA perspective we would prefer outdoor to speak with one voice.”
The founders of Oohma are adamant that this is not a breakaway from the OAA, but that they were driven to launch the organisation to prove to advertisers that less traditional forms of outdoor are credible.
One of Oomah’s instigators is Jessica Hatfield, who heads the Media Vehicle, a company specialising in advertising on supermarket trolleys. She says it has been done in the interests of advertisers and their agencies because one of its aims is to increase accountability in the sector. She adds: “All other media companies have a body and it is our responsibility to promote our medium dynamically.”
One problem Oohma may face is that it is not immediately clear which companies will come under its banner. The term ambient media covers a wide range of advertising opportunities, from advertising on the back of train tickets and on the bottom of beer glasses, to the one-off stunts created to achieve maximum publicity, such as the famous Gail Porter ad for FHM, which saw her naked form projected on the Houses of Parliament.
“Fewer people want their company to be referred to as ambient,” says one insider. “It cheapens what so many of these companies do.”
The other problem hampering the proposed formation of Oohma is that it is not being taken seriously by some members of the industry.
Its first general meeting, which took place just two weeks ago, ended in a fracas. Billed as an open meeting to encourage companies to debate their ideas for the association, it turned into a full-scale row, and according to eye-witnesses, the meeting broke down after several attendees walked out. Carl Pickford, managing director of washroom advertiser CPA, claims he instigated a walkout of attendees after he queried the proposed &£140,000 salary of designate chairman Richard Holliday.
Pickford says he was “outraged” at the salary, adding: “All I did was ask some difficult questions and several people followed me out.”
Hatfield sees it very differently. “People who have e-mailed me say they left because of Pickford’s and his two colleagues’ behaviour”.
The need for Oohma is not being questioned by most in the industry, but with the OAA’s announcement this week that it will do more for companies that have felt excluded in the past, the future of the new body is in some doubt. Insiders suggest that the founders of Oohma swallow their pride, gather their initial findings and agree to be part of the OAA, as there will be little point in having two outdoor bodies.