This month we welcome Antonio Vincenti, CEO, Pikasso , Lebanon.
- Please tell us about your personal background and how you got involved in the out-of-home industry?
I spent my baccalaureate year, which is the last one of school in the French system, in Baden Baden in Germany. With my schoolmates we often used to spend the weekends in Strasburg across the border; when getting out of the train station, we walked next to the 4×3 billboards which posters, in 1982, were often the talk of the town. I was totally seduced by the graphism and messages and thought that it might be a good idea one day, to replicate the model in Lebanon. Back to Beirut, I started to study Law at Université Saint-Joseph followed by History-Geography while working in the family FMCG distribution business.
The idea of implementing the very first poster advertising panel in Lebanon never left my mind, it was shared with my closest four friends, and together, we established, in 1986, Pikasso (an easy name with a distinctive K) with 3×2 yellow frame panels (an attractive color in the sunny environment). The success was immediate and overwhelming. What started as a friends’ dream became, a year later, a solo project when the other bands friends went each on their way.
- Can you tell us a little bit about Pikasso?
Pikasso can be described as a pioneering and innovative OOH company, having launched and developed concepts since day one that became almost a local revolution in the ad industry and in the streetscape. We’ve had the chance to start in the late days of poster paper printed by serigraphy, and witnessed the evolution to offset and to digital printers. We started by installing static billboards, then standard Sicmea models, Trivision, large formats then moved to scrollers and LED’s with custom made design structures in function of the location. We launched the first comprehensive networks with brand names based on geomarketing with the first ever study on the built up areas of Lebanon conducted for us.
We organized yearly conferences on ‘The Best Posters of the World’ to familiarize creatives in all our markets on poster creativity rules and established the Pikasso d’Or that is a respected award with an independent jury presided by Alain Weill and which Secretary General is Andrew Rawlins. Today, it is the only advertising prize existing in our four countries.
We have developed a comprehensive quality system based on transparency and accountability with custom made reports for war zones that we registered to ISO 9001. Recently, we also applied for Sustainability Report under ISO 26000.
But what we are most proud of is the role our billboards played in crucial moments of the history of Levant countries and our commitment as Citizen Billposters. Our billboards were the testimony of the biggest tragedies and of the higher hopes of Lebanon, through the passionate posters displayed. In Jordan , we launched in 2000 with the first ever institutional governmental OOH communication, and in Iraq, in 2004, our billboards were the ersatz of the vanished public authorities through the flags printed on posters. We also support on a free basis, almost every single week of the year, NGO’s and NPO’s involved in childhood protection, health prevention campaigns and environment issues.
Today Pikasso is the market leader in the four countries it operates in: Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Algeria. We recently entered the Tunisian market through a merger acquisition under the brand name used in North Africa ‘Lawhat’. We have a presence in 300 cities and towns with more than 9000 faces and 55 exclusive concessions.
- Of all the countries that Pikasso operate in, which one do you think has the most advanced market that others in our industry should keep an eye on?
Lebanon is definitely the most advanced market, not only among the five countries we operate in, but at the level of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. The Lebanese market is extremely sophisticated in most sectors: banking, trading, healthcare, real estate etc.. Advertising is a kind of ‘chasse gardée’ in the Middle East: most CEO’s of the ad networks, top creative directors, media booking agencies directors and also main media representatives are originated from the country of the cedars. The reason is very simple: when the war erupted in 1975, the main advertising players headed to Dubai to settle there, and establish the second ad hub of the Middle East, the third one being Casablanca, catering for North Africa.
- Is Pikasso new to DOOH? If so, where in the world are you looking for inspiration and best practice?
We installed our first five digital screens in Beirut in 2010 just before the FEPE Congress held in the city that year! They were provided by Daktronics  with a 10mm SMD pixel pitch. We then added 10 more screens to have a comprehensive coverage and created a network called ‘Beirut Digital Constellation’. They are sold in loops of eight seconds with six ads maximum for standard periods of seven days. We also propose part of the day campaigns in four time slots (morning, noon, afternoon and evening) to focus on specific audiences. Subtle motion has just been accepted by us, in the crowded streets of the capital.
A large format digital rollout followed in 2014, with seven locations from 32m2 to 112m2 integrated within the ‘Canal 8’ network that covers the main axis of Beirut, the north and south entrances as well as the main highway of the country leading to Jounieh. Four more large format screens were under installation in August-September, and seven more will be added by the end of 2015.
This will lead us to a total LED screens of 46 by the end of 2016, with 33 locations in Lebanon, in addition to the existing three in Jordan, two in Iraq, and eight in Algeria. The plan is to reach 100 large format LED screens in three years.
At the level of the Malls, the deployment started in 2010, too, with few 70 inch LCD screens integrated in ground mounted displays, similar to our custom designed 2m2 scrollers. Le Mall Dbayeh was the first 100% digital platform launched in 2012.
In 2016, we will upgrade four malls and launch two new major concessions: Park Mall Setif in Algeria and another one in Jordan to be announced in October.
All the new LCD screens will be equipped with a camera, some sort of beacon device and the regular NFC/QR provided by Blue Bite. Most of the ones located in appropriate locations (almost half), will have a touch screen.
As for the inspiration, I mainly look at the UK. It is such an advanced, sophisticated, vibrant and innovative market that you should follow up almost daily, or else you cannot catch up with what’s happening and what to adopt as best practice. London is definitely the place to be to learn about DOOH, and to become among those who are at the forefront of the important evolutions of our Medium.
In the presence of such a number of super specialized companies, each one dedicated to a specific aspect of the DOOH industry, we can talk today of a unique London cluster.
I am also inspired by the US, another major DOOH market with a specific know-who.
Our commitment to DOOH is translated in the massive investments in the digital rollout: US $8 million since 2010 and a budgeted US$4 million for 2016.
- Are you ever interested in acquisitions for expansion?
Yes, definitely. There is no other way to expand nowadays in our field. Gone are the days where you could easily go greenfield as we did in five countries. We achieved, this year, our first merger acquisition in Tunisia.
We’ve been participating to two important processes in the last two years, reaching the stage of finalists, and have gained a lot of experience from our unsuccessful biddings: First, we now have an internal team that is able to mobilize and deploy instantly with all the needed expertise and procedures in hand. Second, our advisors, an International Investment Banker, a US-British Law Firm and a top-four auditing firm, constitute now a good working team.
Third, we have accumulated some important learning that you can only reach by participating to processes.
Summer, 2015, saw us once again in the midst of an acquisition project, while we remain wide eyes open to grab any opportunity in Africa, Europe or Western Asia.
- What types of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc., have you integrated into your offerings? Can you give us a couple of examples?
We have not yet been able to do so as in the countries where we operated as, it is sensitive to broadcast ‘spontaneous’ messages. Soon, however, we hope to find a good way to scrutinize the messages before displaying them while making sure there is enough continuous content.
- Have you plans to add any new technology to your advertising mix in the near future? If so, please give examples.
As mentioned earlier, all our new LCD’s will be fitted with the technologies that allow face recognition, augmented reality, interaction via social media or direct touch. We are expecting the first truly engaging campaigns during 2016.
Let me add here that we need to spend a lot of energy and effort to familiarize creatives and marketers to the infinite possibilities offered to them, and to the huge benefits brands can obtain from successful engaging campaigns, bearing in mind that, in price sensitive markets such as the ones we operate in, clients prioritize exposure to production costs.
Thanks to technology that allows instant broadcast at no additional cost, we have been running some successful weather activated campaigns: for example Dunlop has booked a campaign to be aired the first five days of heavy rain with an Arabic play on words ‘The ground is soapy’. We also run time segment campaigns such as, for example, L’Orient-Le-Jour daily newspaper displaying every morning from 6 am to 11 am since April 8, 2015, its front page. It was joined by Dunkin Donuts that launched its caramel salted café latte. Carrefour regularly uses the afternoon time from 3 pm to 7 pm for special promotions. Four campaigns were displayed between May and July, while Label 5 used the evening time from 7 pm to 1 am to reach the high income and young audience of the Beirut by night type.
- Are you excited or worried about Smart Phones and the out of home advertising industry
I’m very much excited about smart phone and OOH: we were among the first to join Blue Bite  in their mobile bridge endeavor, and equipped more than 1,500 faces in all our malls, gyms, bus shelters and citylights with MTag carrying the QR Code and the NFC. From all what we observe, the relationship is more of a love story: The mobile hyper-connected consumers, particularly the millennials, have an increased appetite for interactivity with DOOH.
- How is the company managed in each country?
The company is managed in each country by a GM which main tasks are to be responsible of the technical operation, the Patrimony, the Human Resources, the Sales and the PR, each department being headed by a Director.
The structure of our Group is as follows: The Holding Company Yellow Spirit based in Beirut counts 26 top Managers in charge of finance, development, marketing, IT, Quality and CSR. Each director has regional responsibilities, local heads of departments in each country reporting functionally to them. The total headcount is 300 among which 20 are engineers.
- How do you handle advertising sales: in house or through which company?
We, of course, handle it in house: OOH being exclusively an advertising medium, it is our raison d’être to sell the space that we develop. Furthermore, with the rise of the technology, it becomes a very complex communication tool with huge opportunities that need highly specialized people.
- Can you link any or all of your static and digital billboards in the different countries in any way?
Yes, we can link them. All our digital billboards are already remotely operated either via a satellite signal when using Visiconn software for Daktronics supplied ones, or for the others via an Internet 3G connection through their respective software. As for LCD’s within Malls, we use Broadsign . So we have the system to deploy regional campaigns. But the truth is that, despite the fact that brands often use the same campaign visual in neighboring territories, the display agenda is different.
Concerning the static inventory, there is a physical link: same dimensions and same sale system. Technology has added a new link via the Mtag.
- What do you think is the strength of Pikasso? Is there any strong brand message that you have?
The strength of Pikasso is to be able to deliver and maintain the highest quality and implement ultimate innovations in countries where forecasts and plans are difficult. We have integrated resilience in the DNA of the company. The brand message ‘Yellow and Everywhere’ reflects the extensive national coverage, the footprint, and the activity in all segments of OOH: billboards, transport and urban furniture.
- Where do you forecast Pikasso being by the end of 2016?
By the end of 2016, Pikasso will have 20% of its revenue coming from digital in Lebanon and 16% in Jordan, whereas at a group level, it will represent 10%. We should increase our presence to one additional country unless we succeed in a transformational acquisition, which will bring us closer to our long term objective of having a footprint in around 25 countries by 2025.
- What most excites you about OOH and DOOH?
Our medium has many exciting aspects, such as the feeling of satisfaction, comparable to a conqueror, when winning a bid, a concession or installing a new prime site, or being constantly in the making, due to the non-stop evolutions and to the close links with all ultimate technologies applicable to DOOH. What also excites me a lot is the tremendous power of influence outdoor has on the people and on the cities’ ambiance. DOOH has added a magic touch.
- You are now also FEPE President and you’ve made a number of board level appointments recently. Tell us a little about how you see FEPE helping drive the industry
FEPE is, as you already know, the only global OOH association. Its role and influence have tremendously evolved over the last few years.
In addition to uniting the industry players with suppliers and stakeholders , promoting best practice, creating a forum for exchange of expertise, spreading knowledge and publishing all the relevant innovations and info in the weekly newsletter, FEPE has embarked in several projects this year to increase the awareness of our media and help drive the industry.
The first FEPE awards were launched in June in Budapest with four categories that recognize Lifetime Achievement, Leadership, Technical Innovation and Creativity.
We also joined the AM4DOOH consortium composed by APG, Clear Channel, Exterion and JCDecaux to deliver the first standardized approach to audience measurement, and contributed up to around a quarter of its budget. We are also working on strengthening the FEPE structure and have few other projects in the pipeline that will be revealed later on.
FEPE is mostly about a collective energy and time allocated by Board members. We recently wished to enlarge the circle and invited Tom Goddard from Ocean and Brendon Cook from Ooh! Australia. We immediately felt their positive input as we embarked, upon the suggestion of Brendon, in a strategic review project that will help us further drive the future of our industry.