In certain quarters of the media industry, out-of-home media means long, inflexible lead times, fading roadside posters and untargeted volume deals.
But the outdoor industry is adamant it no longer deserves that reputation. In the run-up to Christmas, for example, Tesco launched a pioneering six-week outdoor campaign. Booked by Initiative and IPM on Clear Channel and JCDecaux six-sheets, four creatives were rolled out each Wednesday across the UK.
Danny Donovan, managing director, Initiative, says: "Initiative challenged the outdoor market to meet press' level of flexibility and we're really excited about the way they met that challenge, keeping Tesco at the forefront of media thinking."
The campaign targeted shoppers geographically in a new way, promoting offers and reacting to the seasonal shopping period as it unfolded.
Out-of-home's new-found flexibility, fuelled by advances in digital technology, has helped the medium compete for advertising budgets with the national press, with some clients preferring to allocate ad spend to billboards, posters and digital screens, rather than display ads in the pages of national newspapers.
Steve Atkinson, group sales director at Clear Channel Outdoor, saw out-of-home as a "massive threat" in his former role as deputy commercial director at The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. "Press is not a must-have medium any more," he says. "Press still believes it is powerful, but daily circulations are falling away."
Ad spend figures support his argument. Over the 10-year period between 1997 and 2007, the out-of-home sector increased its share of UK media spend (excluding the internet and direct mail) from 5.2% to 8.9%. By contrast, national newspapers took a 20.2% share in 1997, but by 2007, this had fallen to 17.7% (see chart, page 22).
Out-of-home has traditionally been bought in two-week slots, booked 12 weeks in advance. However, billboard posters can now be turned around in 24 to 48 hours, HD digital printing allows media owners such as Limited Space to print multiple creatives to tell a story and digital outdoor ads can be uploaded remotely within minutes.
Vodafone and watch manufacturer TAG Heuer congratulated Lewis Hamilton within minutes of him winning the Formula 1 Championship in November through a campaign booked by Kinetic on JCDecaux's PrimeTime screens.
Alongside the luxury goods and telecoms categories, a wide range of advertisers regularly use digital outdoor to target consumers on particular days or at specific times of day, using the medium in a similar manner to press ads.
The EuroMillions lottery has promoted up-to-date jackpot figures on Titan's digital Transvision screens on the day of the draw, while CBS Outdoor's digital screens on buses, the Underground and in the Westfield shopping mall allow clients such as Magners to target travellers at different times of the day and night.
In addition to offering the flexibility of press, out-of-home media owners claim the medium benefits from the absence of editorial. Spencer Berwin, JCDecaux's managing director, sales, emphasises outdoor's role as the "good news medium".
And Iain Chapman, sales director, Ocean Outdoor, maintains that outdoor advertising is "pure and simple". He says: "It's brand, logo and strapline driven, while blending in with the urban landscape. It is almost artistic in its appearance."
Tim Bleakley, managing director, sales and marketing at CBS Outdoor, says newspapers are full of bad news "day in, day out", but that by advertising on out-of-home sites, clients can be sure adjacent editorial will not damage their brand.
However, newspaper publishers respond that they are reaching ever-wider audiences, thanks to combined online and offline readerships. Jim Freeman, group trading director, Telegraph Media Group, says the Telegraph's audience is "larger than ever" with 15.4 million readers a year.
Executives believe the relationships these readerships have with newspaper brands make their audiences more valuable than those of outdoor.
Adam Freeman, commercial director, Guardian News & Media, says: "Content and consumer engagement is more important than platform. Paid-for newspapers are the only truly actively consumed medium."
Eve Samuel-Camps, head of press at Universal McCann, adds: "National papers are powerful media brands and are used for their engagement and not just circulation figures." She dismisses out-of-home's 48-hour turnaround.
"Potentially, you can deliver copy up to 5pm for the next day's paper with press," she says.
Ian Clark, managing director of thelondonpaper, claims newspaper ads provide "a response that is impossible with outdoor advertising". For example, after a recent Tesco ad in The Sun, one million people redeemed a voucher at Tesco stores.
"The work the press industry has done with the Newspaper Marketing Association proves newspapers add to brand engagement scores and sales, particularly alongside TV," says GNM's Freeman. He points out that press has invested in printing and digital capabilities, as well as research.
"Press has hardly stood still," agrees Clark. "News International has invested £650m in new printing facilities and the arrival of free evening newspapers was a dynamic change for London's ad market."
And with full redesigns of all the major quality papers in recent years, press buyers believe newspapers have never looked better. Louise Green, associate director, national press investment team at Manchester-based MediaVest, says the 220 national press platforms allow advertisers to buy into "relevant environments", offering "a more specific targeted audience" than outdoor.
The Telegraph's Jim Freeman says out-of-home has done a "fantastic" reinvention job, but claims "there is a limit to how much it can do".
For example, digital out-of-home may be the fastest-growing medium in the UK, up 48.2% year on year in Q3 last year (source: Outdoor Advertising Association), but the two largest outdoor media owners, Clear Channel and JCDecaux, only have 30 roadside digital screens between them.
Nevertheless, out-of-home has the means to up its challenge to the national press. Tim Sapsford, managing director at Meridian Outdoor, says: "If the recession makes things more flexible, maybe a positive will come out of the downturn."
Tesco's Christmas campaign showed outdoor can be a highly responsive medium. But whether clients will start turning to outdoor instead of press as a matter of course will depend on how effectively the out-of-home industry sells itself to clients, and for how long press salesmen can continue to flog their declining circulations.
The case for out-of-home
Out-of-home is able to offer total flexibility
Iain Chapman, sales director at Ocean Outdoor, says digital ads can be uploaded immediately and short-term opportunities on premium formats can be bought, printed and installed within 24 hours. "Out-of-home delivers a mobile, younger and more affluent audience. There has been huge investment in the presentation of the premium sector formats in the past six to 10 years and this has attracted more luxury brands and new client categories."
Out-of-home can compete on price promotions
Roy Jeans, chief executive, IPM, says 2008 campaigns showed it was logistically possible to change six-sheet campaigns weekly. "Out-of-home can now compete directly with press on price promotions. This has already been done with six-sheets, but it can now be done with 48 and 96-sheets as well. There will be new rules in 2009; we're in a difficult place, but this brings opportunities."
The time people spend out- of-home has increased by 53% since 1994 (source: TouchPoints 2)
Spencer Berwin, managing director, sales, JCDecaux, says out-of-home is one of the few media with a growing audience. "An outdoor campaign reaches 75% of the population, whereas only 43% of adults read a newspaper each day (source: TouchPoints). The out-of-home audience is younger, more upmarket and represents 55% of the wealth of the country."
Out-of-home ads can be located strategically
Ged Weston, sales director, Titan, says location is key. "Posters can be located in the street, at stations, at supermarkets, in cinemas or even in the loo. Whatever the message, they can be placed exactly where they will have the most immediate impact. Posters are in the public domain, which makes out-of-home a real talking point, often leading to high-profile PR coverage."
Out-of-home takes the brand or product closer to the point of purchase
Suzanne Hodgins, planning director at Kinetic, says: "Proximity is important for influencing audience behaviour and sales. Erwin Ephron's Recency Theory shows the exposure that triggers a response is not the first exposure, but the most recent of a series of exposures."
The case for press
Newspapers are reactive
Adam Freeman, commercial director, GN&M, says newspapers deliver mass or niche reach and coverage on a daily basis, with a booking deadline of only 12 hours. "At The Guardian and The Observer, we saw year-on-year growth in our newspaper revenues in the run-up to Christmas. Retail, finance and car clients reacted on a daily basis to the previous day's business performance and used the medium to drive sales on the high street and online."
It doesn't matter that newspaper circulations are in decline
Eve Samuel-Camps, head of press at Universal McCann, says: "If it was all about numbers, then people would just advertise on TV. Quality brands such as The Sun and The Sunday Times are priceless. People don't have relationships with outdoor media owners."
Jim Freeman, group trading director, Telegraph Media Group, agrees. "When you advertise with the Telegraph, you're buying a database of seven million consumers. Outdoor has a fantastic place on a media schedule, but it's a completely different proposition to a newspaper group's readership."
Press ads can expand a client's message
Anthony Gibson-Watt, buying director, Zed Media, says: "The best posters have about seven words on them. There's not enough time to engage people running down a Tube platform. When you get a reader's attention with a press ad, you can hold it and give them more details of the offer. Also, press ads are cheap to make. Moving digital outdoor ads that include more information are expensive."
Press campaigns offer scale and immediacy
Ian Clark, managing director of thelondonpaper, says an ad on a single day in The Sun reaches eight million people and advertisers can reach 38 million people by using both the paper and online. "With outdoor you have to rely on people going past the site; that's why they need the two-week period. The turnaround in press is its strength, since ads change every day. The ad message won't be hanging around for two weeks. By week two, advertisers might have changed their sale or offer."
The verdict - Client opinions on the OOH versus press debate
Anna West, media planning manager, British Airways
Neither channel is necessarily better - it's about choosing the most appropriate one depending on the objectives. Outdoor is great for building stature and big broadcast statements. Our sale campaign used billboards and digital sites we could update with the latest fares. But press is great for reaching a broad, yet targeted audience quickly. Our latest campaigns used both media.
Major Charlie Mayo, national marketing manager, Army Recruiting Group
National press offers the opportunity to provide more detail on the Army to a nationwide audience. Depending on the titles used, we can target potential recruits, their gatekeepers or both. Conversely, outdoor allows us to target our audience geographically. We can advertise at a local level, directing potential recruits to their local recruitment office.
Steve Beckett, head of media planning, BSkyB
Newspaper publishers have become much more imaginative when responding to briefs. And improvements in print quality standards have helped us communicate product leadership effectively. In outdoor, digital and vinyl skins have offered scope for greater creativity and impact. But out-of-home's challenge remains measurement. While in a deflating market, press must continue to focus on price competition while innovating with new formats.
Kara Clarkson, head of media, Coca-Cola Great Britain
The advent of digital formats has been a big enabler of outdoor flexibility. However, digital formats still only comprise 7% of total outdoor revenue. Flexibility is important to our communications planning and we work with partners to deliver this. But the out-of-home industry has some way to go in delivering a fully flexible offering, available nationally, cost-effectively and consistently across all formats.