This month we welcome Cennydd Roberts, CEO, 8Outdoor , London, UK
- How did you get into an Out-of-Home Media career? What led you down this career path?
As the product of the Welsh valleys, media wasn’t an obvious career for me, but once I’d come up to university in London and seen some of the opportunities in media, I never really looked back. I started out as a sales rep at TSMS, the then ITV sales house, a fun but challenging role in the 90s. From there, I moved into radio and was lucky enough to work at Talk Sport during the exciting launch years. I learned a lot very quickly about how to be creative and develop good working relationships with clients.
It was when I was at Talk Sport that an opportunity arose for me to join the More O’Ferrall Out-of-Home billboard business. I had always viewed billboards as a powerful media which made this role all the more perfect. My career in OOH has continued uninterrupted for the last 15 years, working with some great people at many media owner businesses including Van Wagner, CBS (now Exterion) and Clear Channel.
- Please tell us a little about the history of 8 Outdoor, including how large a staff you have today and what you expect of the company in terms of its history this year.
We’re not even a year old yet – we switched on our first screen last August. We’ve already completed our phase one recruitment and now have 19 full-time staff across London, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh. It is a strong team of creative, energetic people, with good experience of delivering for clients. I couldn’t be happier with the brilliant team we’ve managed to recruit. They’re already delivering for the business and our growing client base.
With a good team in place, the main priority now is to give them a high quality product to sell, which means completion of phase one of our screen network roll out. At the moment, we have 25 screens live and by May, we will have a total of 36 live sites in the UK’s top five cities.
Our strategy for phase two will be to expand out to major conurbations, still within the UK. Phase three will see us expand outside the UK.
I want us to be the leading large format digital OOH business, delivering new and better technology for our clients that enables them to reach their audiences more effectively – in terms of cost and impact.
- You currently have products in England and Scotland. On your website, it says, ‘Over the next year, we will be developing sites all over the UK. Hopefully, we’ll get some more banners, too.’ In what regions do you hope to develop sites? And what do you mean by ‘hoping to get more banners?’
In my previous answer, I’ve given you a snapshot of our network rollout strategy. As for banners specifically, they have proven time and time again to provide a different but powerful way of communicating with city audiences. In the right environment, they are very effective. Banner advertiser appeal became less fashionable in recent years because everyone became focused on digital. At 8 Outdoor we have developed some excellent banners in the right city locations, and as a result we are seeing them sell consistently. We will continue to include banners as and when we find and develop the right sites to continue to appeal to a wide spectrum of advertisers’ needs.
- Also on your website, it says, ‘Premium OOH looks fantastic but comes at a price. We think Premium shouldn’t mean exclusive.’ Please explain, and what does 8 Outdoor offer in relation to this?
Quite simply, 8 Outdoor has committed to provide accessibility and flexibility to all advertisers. We want our screens to provide solutions for all budget levels so more advertisers are attracted to and experience our screens.
- You offer products at Heathrow. Do you hope to add more there? Why or why not, and if so, what?
Heathrow and the M4 London corridor have always been important to OOH as they have that heady combination of international business travelers and high-income commuters. We currently have six screens in proximity to Heathrow and will be increasing this to 10 screens by May, delivering millions of highly sought after ‘eyeballs’ to our clients every week – JCDecaux has an exclusive contract with BAA to sell advertising at Heathrow AND on Heathrow land outside the terminals. I know it says on the 8Outdoor website that they have panels at Heathrow, but these panels are on the motorway or the A4 nearby. It’s a bit like saying someone sells ads at Westfield London if they have a poster on the side of the road in Holland Park a quarter of a mile away, Ed.
- You told me that you are changing your website. What do you plan to do with it? What will you incorporate and when will it launch?
Our new website will launch in early May to coincide with the completion of phase one of our network rollout. It will reflect the new look we’ll be adopting for 8 Outdoor.
- Does 8 Outdoor plan to add other departments? Are you hiring these days?
Our phase one recruitment is now complete and we have a solid sales team and a strong network of screens in place. As the business grows and we move into phase two, I’m keen that we deepen our offering and we’ll be looking to recruit with more of a focus on technology and marketing.
- You are planning to eventually expand out of the UK. How soon, and where would you like to go first?
As I mentioned in my previous answer, 2016 is all about building the business in the UK and establishing relationships with our specialist partners and advertisers. We want a business that everyone at 8 Outdoor can be proud of, and our partners and advertisers enjoy being part of. There is no immediate rush to expand into overseas territories but I will be disappointed if we don’t launch a European screen in 2017.
- Your company stresses that your products are ‘brighter’. Please explain.
Considerable research and development has gone into our LED’s to create, in our opinion, the best quality and robust outdoor LED in the marketplace. Almost all of our screens have been developed by SIS Media which have been pioneers in their field and, I believe, have developed the best LED display available in the marketplace today. Their quality has surpassed our expectations and more information about this product will be available very soon.
- What are your thoughts on programmatic for OOH and DOOH?
From my first day at 8 Outdoor, it was apparent to me just how much investment and time has been spent on programmatic, which, in my view, can only be a good thing in the long run. From the outset, our company has invested in its own automated live availability and booking system, which was initially developed to assist our local sales. Moving forward, we will collaborate with our clients and industry leaders to ensure we are keeping pace with developments in the most effective way possible for our clients.
Programmatic clearly works very well for digital on-line and mobile where specific messages can be delivered to a specific group of people quickly and efficiently. The challenges with OOH are greater because the bulk of inventory is still static, so an OOH programmatic world needs to reflect this. Not wanting to sound too smug, but as an almost exclusive digital media owner, we probably stand to benefit most when programmatic becomes the standard way of planning, buying and selling.
The core benefits are obvious with greater efficiencies, improved targeting and enhanced optimization which every media owner hopes will return higher occupancies and revenue, and, very importantly, end up with happy clients who will return and book larger campaigns.
I feel that the key to getting this right is collaboration, which will enable us to overcome any short-term ‘teething problems’ or hurdles and integrate all tools and technologies seamlessly. This is still very much the beginning of a new chapter, and programmatic needs to provide benefits for everyone because we are all on this journey together.
- How much of 8 Outdoor’s content is devoted to charitable causes. Do you have a favourite charity? If so, what and why?
I’ve personally worked with lots of charities successfully throughout my career and I’m proud to say that 8 Outdoor will be announcing two charity partnerships in May. Details will be on our new website.
- In what area of DOOH do you think that people are lacking education? What would you recommend to alleviate that?
Answering this from the sales side, everyone is aware of the advantages of DOOH, but I feel not enough people understand the wider digital marketplace. DOOH, after all, is digital, so we need to work harder at selling digital instead of taking share from classic OOH. Too often, I feel that people within our industry are looking at other OOH and thinking how they can win share. I want to ensure that my team understands the whole marketplace – has a wider perspective, not just OOH or DOOH. I want them to focus on being creative, working on initiatives to attract spend away from all other media and succeed in bringing new advertisers to DOOH.
- Whose content management software do you use, and why?
Scala  provides our content management software. Scala is a major smart CMS platform with very responsive functionality, enabling us to execute live changes in seconds and easily sync different frames for content synchronization. It also has an open-end API which is very flexible and essential for the performance of dynamic campaigns, and is a scalable system which means it can easily adapt to our requirements, as and when our network continues to expand.
- And what do you use for measurement?
We have subscribed to Route  and we will soon be in receipt of our audience data. We currently trade using official gross traffic figures. As well as audience measurement, we are focusing heavily on accountability. Measuring the performance of our screens is vitally important, and our customers will soon be able to download a camera app which will display live footage of every 8 Outdoor digital screen.
While this is visual accountability, the camera app will work in tandem with a proof-of-play system recording every play from all of our screens. This technology is incorporated into the LED during the production process, which then connects the player with the tiles and helps to overcome the historic disconnect between the player and the hardware. More information will be available soon.
- You seem to have been running some kind of a contest for viewers. Please tell us about it, what it gives you, and whether it will continue long-term?
It’s good to know that you are following us on Twitter. The competition was a simple quiz format where customers were invited to answer questions about 8 Outdoor via our screens and Twitter feed. It was a bit of fun and a good way of starting conversation about our new business with the advertiser community. It had a good response. This initiative wasn’t designed to be long term, however, and we’ll be developing a new type of interactive program soon via our screens that better reflects the larger network of 36 screens going live.
- We hear more and more about data. We presume that 8 Outdoor has been accumulating data. How do you use it?
You’re right, data capture is very important for us and, from May, it will become even more so. After we’ve moved into phase two, I’ll be able to share more information with you about this.
- In your view, what do you think has to be done to have media planners/buyers devote a larger share of their clients’ budgets to outdoor media?
With an enviable growing audience, OOH is well positioned to take more share from other media. Investment into digital is also on the increase with decent scale now existing in many environments and for both small and large formats. We have to appear as one industry with common goals communicated to the media planners/buyers and clients. Outsmart has already been very effective at galvanizing its members and, towards the end of last year, collaborated with the IPAO to produce a unique data management application called SPACE – the first of its kind in the world.
8 Outdoor’s future digital development will focus on launching large format screens into towns and cities where screens do not currently exist. We want to grow the UK’s digital large format audience reach, which can only be a good thing, and broaden our advertiser appeal, and hopefully grow OOH. I feel, as an industry, we are in a very fortunate position with a great opportunity to grow well beyond our 10% share. DOOH is becoming increasingly sophisticated and, unlike mobile, doesn’t rely on being disruptive and annoying. Mobile purchases are increasingly being triggered by OOH ads, integrating OOH seamlessly with the hottest thing around.
A combination of collaborative initiatives; investment into new technology; the development of outstanding products; the supply of relevant and meaningful data; and repeating the message that OOH really works, will surely only grow OOH’s share of spend, given that our audience is on the rise year upon year.