60 Second Spot: Tim Bleakley, Ocean Outdoor

Tim Bleakley, who joined Ocean Outdoor as chief executive in May, talks to Jane Bainbridge about his plans for the company, how OOH can increase share of the advertising pie and the Olympic countdown

Tim Bleakley, chief executive, Ocean Outdoor
Tim Bleakley, chief executive, Ocean Outdoor

MW: You’ve worked across various media during your career but outdoor has been your recent focus. What most appeals to you about the OOH medium?

TB: The creative freedom it allows. Outdoor is the only medium where innovation, ideas and creativity can be driven by the commercial teams. Creative freedom is not capped or restricted by editorial or programming.

MW: Ocean Outdoor is a relatively young and small player in the market, was that part of the attraction for joining the company?

TB: I’ve been very lucky to find an exciting company such as Ocean in this particular stage of its development. The non-corporate ethos does appeal - freedom, enterprise, passion and quality are values we hold dear - and the inventory is strong, with iconic landmarks and digital beacons.

MW: How do you plan to evolve Ocean over the next few years?

TB: We have high expectations and high standards, we have a clear plan and we are focusing in a very niche, but high-quality product area. As such, our strategy is ultra-competitive, so I won’t go into too much detail.

The exciting thing is that we intend to champion innovations such as digital OOH to encourage new advertisers to start using the medium and to encourage existing advertisers to use it differently. If we deliver the plan we can be a profitable and successful company. We have the right foundations, it’s how we build on them that counts.

MW: It has been a bruising 18 months for the outdoor industry, with consolidation and job losses during the recession. Are you optimistic the worst is over?

TB: I’m not qualified to make economic predictions but 2010 has started very positively - albeit against a backdrop of minus 20% this time last year - and Zenith has just trebled its UK outdoor advertising growth forecasts, which is encouraging.

I’m pleased to see the numbers of brands that have returned to the medium with big headline campaigns: Hyundai, BlackBerry, Sky and Tesco, as well as the really smart users of the medium such as Virgin Trains.

Large-format is the industry’s shop window - when demand is high and it is fuelled by superb brands with striking creative, everybody walks taller. Buyers and sellers now have a far better understanding of what outdoor adds and the role it plays in the media mix. But we can’t be complacent; things still feel volatile and lead times remain short.

MW: What are the main challenges for the outdoor advertising industry in this uncertain climate?

TB: We have to launch our new measurement system through Postar, and we have to ensure it is integrated with other agency planning tools such as TouchPoints. We also need to be braver and kick the tired formula of using a two-week cycle featuring one visual display on digital sites. We have a Ferrari out there and we are pottering along at ten miles per hour.

MW: How can outdoor gain greater share of the ad market?

TB: We have no right to a bigger piece of the pie, so we should start by remembering that. Next we can focus on communicating the pure and simple attributes of the medium exceptionally well - as the poster specialists have done superbly for years.

We must continue to innovate and be careful not to allow the commercial necessities of the commodity sales element of our business to dilute innovation, ideas or the pioneering spirit of outdoor. We also shouldn’t be shy about educating clients and planners about how to get the most out of the medium.

MW: How concerned are you by the OFT’s decision to investigate the market?

TB: Ocean is a fast-growing, boutique media company so I am probably less worried than some of my industry colleagues from an operational company perspective. I am not close enough to second-guess where the investigation is heading. But based on the different interests of those being interviewed, it would make an interesting fly-on-the-wall documentary.

The biggest concern is management distraction: the industry needs its top talent focused on the green shoots of recovery, not on lengthy conference calls with legal eagles.

MW: To what extent has digital reinvigorated the outdoor industry, and which product developments are in the pipeline?

TB: Digital has made a huge contribution over the past four years; digital OOH is arguably the fastest-growing media sector across Europe.

Digital OOH has increased trial, improved creative standards, changed perceptions and even improved the posting times for traditional posters. I would even say it has re-educated the outdoor workforce and fast-tracked us all into becoming more digital-savvy operators.

The exciting things are yet to come: subtle motion, layering, and other ways of stretching the boundaries within planning regulations. A piece of kit that delivers one base digital image that the client can refresh remotely with live copy could revolutionise price promotions.

MW: Did the OOH industry have a successful World Cup?

TB: Well, I’m delighted to tell you that Team Outdoor did a damn sight better than Team Capello. Actually, sometimes these events can just see revenue switch periods, or some advertiser categories avoid them, so it can be hard to get a clear picture.

This year, however, there was a very positive effect: beers, cars, electronics and tourism advertisers all targeted the tournament, and we also perhaps benefited from the wave of optimism that England might actually do well.

MW: What plans do you have in place for the 2012 Olympics?

TB: Last week, we started our two-year countdown across our key digital inventory, featuring a different activity each day.

Our plan is to deliver a magical "natural pull" towards 2012 for brands, using our spectacular locations in some of the most affluent catchment areas of London: Battersea Power Station, the Imax and Westfield, to name but a few.

The most exciting news is the partner we have signed to sponsor 12 minutes past eight on the evening of the twentieth of December across our whole digital network every year for the next three years. A pretty funky idea and one that illustrates perfectly what digital OOH is capable of.

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