The humble poster has come a long way in 28 years: Ron Graham

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In OOH News | August 21, 2009
Ron Graham, managing director, Media On The Go, a knowledge resource company in the outdoor space was in Mumbai recently. afaqs! caught up with him to know more about the Macau APAC OOH convention, his views on the OOH industry and perspectives on the Indian OOH space

Ron Graham, managing director, Media On The Go, a Singapore-based knowledge resource company in the outdoor space, will chair the first edition of Asia Pacific Out-of-Home Media Convention, which is to be held in Macau in November.

UK-born Graham moved to Singapore more than a decade ago while working with JCDecaux. He stayed on in Asia, later working with Kinetic (then Poster Publicity) and other companies across Asian markets, until he set up his own company a year ago.

Graham was in Mumbai recently, when afaqs! caught up with him to know more about the convention, his views on the growth of the OOH industry and perspectives on the current Indian OOH scenario. Here are the excerpts.

Q. The theme of the convention is 'Inside out'? What does it signify?

A. Inside Out conveys the fact that the event will cover the total picture of out of home communications. In other words, it will be the inside scoop on the outdoor industry.

The event will cover a wide area of topics. For instance, Annie Rickard - president, Posterscope Worldwide, will explore the challenges faced by the OOH industry in Asia, specifically after the digital revolution, and how OOH fits into the new media.

There will be other interesting presentations -- Rommel Fuentebella from Coca Cola Far East will talk about the role of OOH in brand building.

Besides, the event will also see presentations on the latest innovations in OOH display and in new media such as digital and mobile, and a discussion on measurement tools, which is a key factor for OOH growth.

Q. Will the APAC OOH Media Convention be an annual event for the industry?

A. We are aware that there is a desire for the OOH industry to gather, share and learn. Now, if the industry embraces and supports the APAC OOH Media Convention, then it will surely be an annual event. Further, we will maintain visibility and activity throughout the year, through a dialogue with the industry. The frequency of a regional gathering and the venues each time will be directed by the industry itself.

Q. You have worked across markets in the APAC region, be it in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, or Korea. Can you draw a comparison of the OOH industry amongst these markets?

The similarities in the OOH space are not limited only to the APAC region. Global brands use similar strategies for OOH across the world. For instance, bus-shelter advertising is similar in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Thailand, China, France, Hungary, or even in the US. Even the new OOH media, such as digital screen networks in restaurants and bars, office buildings, supermarkets and so on, are almost identical, whether it is in Manchester or Manila.

However, what makes these different is the operations -- the way the OOH medium is planned, bought and sold. In many markets, where the OOH media inventory is high and short-term (tactical campaigns) deals are common, OOH is sold along with other media in an integrated plan.

In many other markets, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia or Philippines, OOH is treated as a support medium. OOH sites are sold individually and these deals are often long term ones. This process makes the medium too cumbersome for tactical campaigns in these markets.

In terms of spends on OOH, the global average is 6.5 per cent of the total advertising spends. In China, the spends are around 16 per cent, while in Singapore and Australia, the figures are 10 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

In Singapore, the OOH business has grown rapidly over the past five years, largely due to bus stop shelter development, digital OOH and ambient. In comparison, the figure is low in Australia, because of highly active and competitive TV, print and radio sectors.

Q. Could you dwell further on the U-Curve theory, and China's position in the curve in terms of OOH spends?

The U-curve defines progress from high share of spend to low and back to higher share. The value and importance of the OOH industry is often enhanced by the relatively poor distribution and reach of other media. As TV, print and radio become more developed, OOH loses its importance, and therefore, share of spends. Then, as the market matures, OOH becomes integrated with other media and increases in importance and share of budgets.

China has a larger share now. But with the increase of television, print, digital inventory, the share of OOH will decrease. The good news is that there will be growth again, and the influences of digital OOH might flatten the U curve and lead to new growth.

Q. You've seen the OOH medium evolve over close to three decades. What major changes could propel the growth of the industry?

New formats and new technologies for out-of-home communication will be key to the growth of the industry. The good part is that these trends are emerging fast and are adapted almost instantly, crossing all geographic boundaries.

When Lewis Hamilton won the F1 championship last year, digital billboards in London showed congratulatory messages within an hour. Interactive campaigns are powerful ways to have a dialogue between brand and consumer.

At a much simpler level, I personally have responded to SMS competitions on poster campaigns (and won once). The humble poster has come a long way in 28 years.

However, the industry really needs to work on measurement tools. Sadly, we have been talking about this and more issues for the last 28 years, but the issues are still the same today, at least in Asia.

Q. India's OOH industry faces issues like self-regulation, fragmentation and dealings with authorities. Are these common problems across markets? How have other markets dealt with such issues?

Yes -- these are common issues for the OOH industry in all markets, and in many cases, these issues are ongoing.

Self-regulation is a powerful way to build professionalism and best practices and manage the relationship with regulators, as well as the marketing fraternity. Markets such as Philippines are on a key crossroads now -- to show an effective self-regulation solution, or face major restrictions via legislation; compared to markets such as Australia that have a better self-regulation mandate, because there is an association, which is in constant dialogue with the regulators.

Fragmentation, too, is typical in many markets, due to the low entry cost for billboard operators. Accountability and deployment issues also exist, so it is healthy for ongoing consolidation of smaller players into bigger entities, or for collaboration in the selling/buying process to make it easier to use OOH. In terms of dealing with authorities, again, consolidation will allow leading companies to represent industry interests with authorities.

The intrinsic value of OOH is that it is a part of, and touches, everyone's daily lives. As such, we need to be a welcome part of the community, including the regulators, and to bring value in the work that we do.

Q. How do you perceive the Indian OOH market? When talking about important OOH markets in the Asia Pacific region, does India figure in a brand's/ agency's plans?

In many ways, the Indian OOH market is very advanced. There are many OOH specialists and specialised divisions within agencies, providing the skills and effort to source, evaluate, plan and buy OOH. Creatively, I see great ideas executed well, deliberately planned for the context in which they are seen. The industry is also blessed with several champions, an active association, dedicated trade press and other resources which help lift the profile of the medium.

I perceive two main problems: presentation and scale. For example, you can implement an effective, city-wide campaign on quality shelters in Delhi. Then, how do you replicate the success in Kolkata or Chennai?

My advice would be to keep doing more of the good stuff, eliminate the bad, and at an appropriate time, when the incremental value proposition exists, push ahead with measurement and tactical campaigns.

In terms of regional importance, India certainly has a very prominent position. On a global scale, I believe there are brands which see India as a significant part of their plans, and consequently, will include India in global brand strategic planning and their advertising activity. Equally, there are brands in India seeking to establish and grow their presence, regionally and globally. This reciprocal activity will, by default, lift India's visibility in the global marketing sense.

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