This month, we welcome Scott Wells, CEO, Clear Channel Outdoor, New York.
- I’ve seen you described by others as a visionary and a strategic thinker, and one who drives innovative thinking. What do you personally think is your biggest strength and why?
I think the ability to assemble the talented individuals necessary to drive innovation and to bring them together to pursue a common mission is my greatest strength. In a business like Out-of-Home, where there’s a very tangible physical element to the work and a long-standing tradition of the way things work, it’s essential to be able to listen and embrace a wide variety of approaches – to drive to a common view of what success will be for the organization and the team. Plus, you have to be stubborn, sometimes, to make it stick!
- You first joined Clear Channel Outdoor in 2008. In nine years, you must have seen many changes in the company and its offerings. Tell us about these from your point of view.
The view from the Board and the view from an operating role are pretty different, but you’re right that there have been a lot of changes. The first big wave was the initial conversion of signs across many markets into digital – going from a tiny part of the business to roughly 25% of our revenue in that time.
The second big wave was the proliferation of technology across the business. From developing tools to allow customers to manage their digital copy themselves to the implementation of Salesforce.com to proof-of-performance being performed by the installers with mobile devices, there has been an explosion of technology in every aspect of the business.
The third wave is the one we’re on right now – where we merge our physical world into the digital world and learn to make the strengths of both work for our customers.
- Your own wide experience includes having held executive positions with Bain Capital, CRC Health Network Group, Dell and AT&T before joining Clear Channel Outdoor. Based on that, what advice would you give people wanting to enter or get ahead in the Digital Out-of-Home industry?
You pick up useful lessons in every role if you’re paying attention. The fundamentals to succeeding in business are pretty similar, regardless of what industry you’re in: Know your customer, know what they want to do and why, and then devise ways to help them succeed in your business.
For someone thinking about DOOH, I’d tell them to really understand why their solution is making their customers’ lives better – not just what a product or service can do, but why someone should care. I get solicited for way too many opportunities that get pitched as, “We have this really cool way to deliver ads and you should check out the tech!” Start with, “Retailers are trying to do x, and this new tech lets them do just that at a really compelling cost!” and your success will be a lot more likely.
- Clear Channel Outdoor traces its beginnings back over 100 years to Foster & Kleiser Signs, which quickly moved into outdoor advertising. I believe Clear Channel Outdoor’s first network was launched in 2004. Can you mention a few of the company’s other many ‘firsts’ including when its first digital screen launched and who was its first advertiser?
Clear Channel Outdoor launched its first digital network of seven faces in the second half of 2005 in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m not sure exactly which advertiser was first to take advantage of those digital assets at that time, but others inside the company recall that Key Bank was among the first. Other recent firsts:-
2013 – Launch of ‘AIR Chicago’, the first-ever 24-Hour radio station dedicated to Aviation Information at Chicago O’Hare and Midway International Airports;
2014 – Clear Channel Airports and Adlux create the first global private Digital Aviation Advertising Network;
2014 – Launch of ‘Connect’ as the first global OOH Mobile Interactive Advertising Platform;
2016 – Launch of Clear Channel Outdoor RADAR, a suite of research, data and analytics tools to help advertisers and advertising agencies more effectively plan and buy CCO advertising media to reach target audiences and measure the impact of their OOH campaigns. For the first time in OOH, this gives marketers the ability to use the same kinds of sophisticated audience segmentation, targeting and insights already in use in their digital campaigns;
2016 – Signing of a 10-year agreement with Metropolitan Airports Commission in Minneapolis/St. Paul to provide the first-ever Comprehensive Digital Ad Network at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport;
2016 – Launch of the first Nationwide Programmatic Solution in U.S. for OOH Ad Buying;
2017 – Signing of a 10-Year Agreement with Honolulu International Airport (HNL) to provide a Comprehensive Digital Media Program, and marking the first In-Terminal Advertising Concession at HNL.
- Sunset Millennium in West Hollywood is one of your newest major developments. Tell us how you were able to enter this new area and what you offer there.
Originally known as Sunset La Cienega, the area was conceptualized by developers in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Its development was held up during two financial crises. So it’s a property that we had our eye on for some time. And we secured our presence in the area nearly 15 years ago, envisioning its redevelopment and its ability to provide a significant opportunity, down the road, for our advertising partners. Today, the new assets at Sunset Millennium further augment our already significant presence in the Los Angeles area. Together with the new billboards available on the Sunset Strip, Clear Channel Outdoor Americas is the largest OOH media company in Los Angeles, offering brands the most strategically located billboards across the city, including over 8,100 total displays and 47 digital displays.
- Your Chicago division has just received The Torch Award for having the highest standards in business ethics. What does an award like this mean for the company as a whole?
First, the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics is the most prominent award that the BBB presents to a business. We’ve worked hard to build a reputation on our ethical practices and our commitment to community and these are anchored by our core values. And I know I speak for the entire organization when I say it’s great that our company and our team have been acknowledged for all the honourable and customer-focused work we do. I’m proud of this tremendous recognition, and all our markets are committed to upholding the highest level of standards and values of our company.
- RADAR is a major new product launched during your tenure at Clear Channel Outdoor. Please tell us about it, and whether you’ve made any changes to it since its launch. What percentage of your clients are now using it?
Clear Channel Outdoor America launched RADAR as a suite of research, data and analytics tools to help advertisers and agencies more effectively plan, buy and attribute results for OOH media. RADAR truly heralded a change in how brands plan and buy OOH – from buying just physical locations to giving brands a better understanding of the types of audience segments that travel past various OOH assets, audience segments that are easily integrated into a brand’s mobile media strategy. Using aggregate and anonymous mobile consumer information, from AT&T Data Patterns, Placed, PlaceIQ and other partners, Clear Channel Outdoor RADAR overlays this privacy compliant, digital data against the company’s inventory in the physical world to create a comprehensive map of how specific audience segments are most effectively and efficiently reached via OOH.
Since launching in February, 2016, we’ve added over 700 different and distinct audience segments and expanded the offering into all markets. Advertisers have been very receptive. To date, major brands from verticals, including travel/tourism, QSR, automotive, fashion, energy among others, have found significant measurable success using this suite of solutions.
- Clear Channel Outdoor took a programmatic approach with its inventory in a major way a year or so ago. How is that going? What percentage of your inventory is, on average, using programmatic? Has it meant a better ROI for clients? And for Clear Channel Outdoor?
First, ROI for OOH is good however you buy it. Our programmatic solution simply delivers a purchase model that some of our advertisers prefer and requested. There are a variety of transaction types that we’ll be expanding into over time. And I’d expect that we’ll transact most of our sales electronically in the next few years. (And the term ‘programmatic’ will probably cease to be very descriptive – I’m sure a new buzzword will avail itself!) We’ve been experimenting in programmatic since late 2015, and laid out our approach and roadmap in a bigger way starting mid-last year. Since then, we’ve expanded and partnered with Rubicon Project as our first private marketplace supply side partner, launched our pilot, and evolved into our beta in Q1 2017. We’re taking a purposeful approach, starting with a subset of inventory and stepping that up, based on testing and client interest. To date, we’ve enabled 85% of our 1,100 digital roadside boards for programmatic transaction, and we’re adding digital screens in 12 airports into the mix throughout Q1. Feedback to date has been positive from clients, for both the effectiveness and efficiency of the solution, and if our clients are happy, it’s good news for us.
- Have you personally revised your thinking on programmatic since it has come into bigger use? In what way?
Our definition of programmatic evolves around our clients’ definitions. So, as a practice, we keep tabs on their changing needs in the space and put those at the forefront of our product-level iterations. The opportunities to embed and use more data into our medium are expanding every day, so I’d fully expect we have a constant stream of new partners and new use cases to be forthcoming. In our first year with RADAR, we’ve added a variety of new data partners and are testing several more. I see the convergence of our great reach and frequency printed assets with our digital call to action assets with our complementary mobile assets continuing to play out in a variety of creative and exciting ways in the years to come. No way we’ll be standing still!
- In what area of the U.S. and for what type of products has programmatic buying worked best for CCO? Why do you think that is?
Though it’s early, we’re seeing a wide range of verticals across our open and private marketplace transactions: QSR, auto, financial services, travel, tech and more. Our inventory skew is top markets, and due to that we’re seeing interest in a lot of larger metro areas. But we’re also starting to see advertisers programmatically tap us for bundles of markets or even national activity, all while leveraging demographic or behavioural data to reach audiences at scale across our footprint. Those multi-market or national campaigns are where programmatic OOH can add a ton of value for brands, and where we hope to see more advertisers operate this year.
- How closely do you work with Clear Channel Canada and your International divisions in the UK and continental Europe?
Clear Channel Outdoor America includes our Canadian and LATAM (Latin American) businesses, so I’m responsible for the results of those businesses. We have some business that crosses borders, but it’s the exception vs. the rule. There are probably five large advertisers who are structured to manage globally, and our footprint gives us a pretty unique ability to talk to them in that way. Clear Channel International covers Europe and Asia for our company. I work closely with William Eccleshare, Chairman and CEO of Clear Channel International, and his team to address the needs of those partners who prefer a global counterpart. Again, it’s the minority of the business, but we can do exciting work when we put our collective footprint to work. You may know that we are a sponsor of the Cannes Outdoor Lions awards. That’s a great example of global collaboration.
- Since iHeart Radio is Clear Channel’s owner, do you collaborate at all for advertising campaigns on any of its other holdings?
We support each other in a variety of ways. Whether it’s promoting events, participating in events, supporting product launches or collaborating with advertisers, there are always ways we and iHeart work together. For instance, we’ve collaborated on a number of integrated radio and OOH campaigns: Lady Gaga’s album release, Paul McCartney’s album release, Carrie Underwood’s album release party, Jason Derulo’s album release party, among many others. These campaigns worked very well as our OOH helped to drive tune-in and downloads of these artists’ work in a big way. We’ve also had major automotive and financial services clients coordinate their OOH, App and Audio campaigns in surprising and fun ways. As with international, these collaborations are a subset of our business, but definitely are impactful. We also partner and leverage our media together in pro bono campaigns to support non-profits that help to make an even bigger impact in the communities in which we operate. Examples include: Show Your Stripes, Project Yellow Light, National Police Week, National Summer Learning Day, just to name a few.
- Clear Channel Holdings offers many outdoor advertising products. Are there any not offered in the U.S. that you would like to start offering? And are there any new products under development for Clear Channel Outdoor that we should watch for in 2017?
Nothing that I can share at the moment.
- Give us some of your thoughts about ‘Connected Cities’. Is Clear Channel Outdoor involved in any specific ‘Connected Cities’ projects underway or planned in the U.S.? If so, please explain.
Connected Cities are a whole new area of opportunity for our industry. They offer compelling new models that bring data, communication and advertising together in one neat package. Many municipalities are in test or beta mode with this type of asset, and we’re involved in a number of those dialogues. It’s too early to say how prominent a part of the mix they will be from an advertising perspective, but Connected Cities are certainly going to be a feature of the future.
- With President Donald Trump now in office, have you any indication of his views on the advertising industry? Do you expect him to insert any influence on it?
I’m not one to speculate on the actions of the Administration.