This month, we welcome Sarah Parkes, Managing Director, Airport Media , London.
We’ve been running CEO Spotlights regularly since 2008  and Sarah is the first executive to have ever been featured more than once. She last featured as Managing Director, Eye, back in September 2013 . Eye Airports managed media sales at London Gatwick airport until February 29, 2016 – at which point responsibility switched over to Airport Media Ltd.  who then took over all existing advertising contracts.
- Please bring us up to date on yourself. When we interviewed you in Sept., 2013, you had just become involved in the airport sector at Eye . Now you are at Airport Media.
Yes, I’ve had the good fortune to have been working at Airport Media from the outset. The airport advertising sector has seen quite a few changes and developments in recent history, and I am really pleased to have had the opportunity to have spent the last six months building the business during Airport Media’s start-up phase.
- Well, I guess the obvious next question is: what did you learn at Eye that you have brought over to Airport Media?
Eye was my first foray into Out-of-Home, having previously worked at CDS Global , part of the Hearst Corporation. Eye was a completely different business to my previous one, which was obviously a steep but exhilarating learning curve. Working there opened my eyes (excuse the pun) to the exciting creative canvas provided by advertising at the airport, and the endless opportunities that presents for brands.
I also learned about the unique nature of the OOH industry and the way that the different stakeholders within it work together to deliver the best solutions for advertisers. It is now feeling increasingly as if media owners are also prepared to be more collaborative, with industry-wide initiatives such as Space and OutPerform receiving universal support and bringing disparate businesses together for their mutual benefit.
Thanks to these efforts, spear-headed by Outsmart , a boutique company such as Airport Media is able to benefit from valuable cross-industry initiatives.
What would fit as the greatest point of similarity between the two companies?
The unique nature of the audience in airports is universal. That is said a lot, but it is absolutely true that airports are a completely individual advertising environment. They offer an upmarket audience, increasing in numbers year-on-year – that audience captive for a significant period, at a ‘pause’ point in their daily lives, actually wanting to be distracted. The potential of this context in which the advertising is served is really exciting, and I joined Airport Media with a great belief in the potential of this audience, and a passion for what it can deliver.
- How many airport networks does Airport Media currently handle? Did they all come since you have been there?
We work with two of the fastest growing UK airports: London Gatwick and London Luton. Because Airport Media was a brand new start-up when I joined, both these airports have come on board during my time at the company. They are exciting partners to work with, both having huge transformational projects underway and championing airport environment innovation.
- And on that note, how many different types of digital out-of-home and how many advertising faces does Airport Media currently have in each airport you now serve? Are there plans for further expansion specifically in these?
They have over 200 faces in total, covering both small format Digital, Digital 6-sheets, Digital landmarks and large format LED screens. London Luton is in the process of a huge terminal redevelopment, of which the Digital media estate is a key element, so we will be expanding within that. As a result of the £5 million investment in London Gatwick’s media estate, which transformed not just the advertising but the whole passenger engagement experience, we continue to investigate opportunities to develop advertising opportunities, both internally and externally.
- What makes airport advertising different from other DOOH, and why is it so attractive from both the network owners and the airport management points of view?
Airport advertising provides three distinct ingredients in an advertising recipe for success: content, context and audience. Content includes our digital formats’ ability to run dynamic and interactive copy; context looks at time, environment and geography; and audience means behaviour, demographics and mindset.
We have access to robust data sets, including passenger numbers and profiles; consumer behaviour information; and EPOS (electronic point-of-sale). We use these not only to evaluate campaign success, but also to provide optimal levels of targeting and audience reach. Essentially, we know exactly who our audience is, and as a result, we can implement multiple ways to target and influence this audience with relevant messaging at each stage of their journey. This granular level of targeting is only possible in a ‘closed’ environment like an airport, and advertisers can really reap rewards from it as a result.
On the product side, Airport Media is committed to digitizing the largest possible number of advertising opportunities in the airports with which we work. Our strategy is digital first, because while iconic, traditional, long-term, high-impact branding sites will always have a valuable role to play in an airport advertising strategy, we believe strategic development of digital layers delivers increased value and potential into the environment both for advertisers and airport partners.
In terms of difference, it consists of two factors: dwell time and context. Because of the dwell time, there’s a plethora of benefits that airport DOOH can effectively deliver that other DOOH networks will struggle to achieve: more in-depth brand storytelling, for instance, where a brand uses our digital networks to communicate with consumers using tailored messaging, depending on where in the airport the consumer is. That’s very effective.
And live updates are truly appreciated since consumers have the time to absorb and understand them. Scores for sporting events, weather information, or traffic updates, are viewed as an added value service and so, for the advertiser, confer a positive halo effect on the brand. Dwell time makes campaigns like Twentieth Century Fox’s ‘Movies on the Move’ at London Gatwick, where passengers could download a film onto their connected device in preparation for the flight, viable and effective. And because of the context, multiple varied robust data sources are available to optimize campaign value through a number of factors including audience, time and dynamic content.
This is appreciated by our airport partners, as our DOOH – both through content and its sleek modern image – is then proven to enhance the passenger experience in these airports. It also, of course, delivers revenue from multiple advertisers without the need for more sites to be built. This keeps the airport environment uncluttered, clean and visually appealing while still providing the opportunity for higher revenue levels.
- With your company in the airport advertising field, the market is now divided among at least three players, I believe. There are a limited number of airports in the UK, so what potential for major growth does your company see in that sector? Please explain.
We see our immediate growth within our current portfolio, ensuring that we maximize the opportunities there. In terms of future growth, we will look to extend our footprint within UK and Ireland, and would not rule out international expansion.
- What advantages does airport advertising hold over other types of advertising?
Firstly, the growth of that audience. For example, earlier this year, CAA data reported that, in 2015, UK airports recorded their busiest summer period ever with more than 78 million passengers – the strongest Q3 ever recorded.
Then, the make-up of this audience. To look at one snippet of information alone, London Gatwick airport advertising provides access to an astonishingly young, upmarket and affluent audience – 38% AB profile, with an above-average household income. Then there’s the context in which this valuable audience consumes the advertising. In the airport, they are captured at a unique point in their daily lives, ‘on pause’ as mentioned earlier, actively seeking distraction. They’re in a very positive, receptive frame of mind as a result, and have the time to engage online via a connected device when prompted by ad messaging. And, because we are able to access multiple levels of data about this audience, we can optimize campaigns for best results.
- Can airport advertising be bought more or less easily than other media via programmatic?
Our investment in leading edge technology platforms ensures that our media can be bought as easily as possible. We are working with multiple partners on ad automation trials. We plan to work with real-time audience data to create efficiencies in ad play, whether that is by aggregating a larger audience to make the campaign more cost-effective, or by taking layers of data, for example, flight information data, so we know the likely demographic make-up of the audience in the airport at any given time. This means that advertising relevant to them can be served. Understanding of the audience in the airport at any given time, coupled with the flexibility of DOOH, can also be used to drive footfall into airport retailers and food and beverage outlets based on specific triggers.
We are also working on an innovative inventory marketplace concept to maximize the occupancy and value of our inventory. We expect planning, using real-time audience information, to be very important for us as we start introducing the trading on impressions.
On a practical level, because we are a new company without legacy systems, we are in a great position to be very agile and adopt new technology very quickly.
- What do you consider the most innovative move that Airport Media has made since entering the field?
Our emphasis on robust data first. We operate in a data rich environment and we know the value of that data to our advertisers, so we are committed to harnessing it for their benefit. Our concession partners use data to optimize retail opportunities, and we are working to use it to optimize our ad networks.
We are also exploring the opportunities offered by layering more non-standard data sources, such as footfall information and in-airport EPOS data, on top of traditional passenger and demographic data.
- Airport contracts are usually long-term. Do you think that is a good thing? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of this?
It’s a good thing, because it encourages and facilitates genuine partnership; it also means that investment in the advertising infrastructure by both parties is absolutely worthwhile. Long-term partnerships save team time and energy and remove the distraction of constant re-pitching, so full attention can be focused on developing the business.
- What content management software does Airport Media use and why?
In April, this year, we made the decision to work with Broadsign  for content management. It’s vital that our media channel partners have the capability to help us provide our clients with the best possible communication channels to reach our airport audience. BroadSign stood head and shoulders above the competition, offering playback, reporting and the ability to integrate with third-party platforms which will help us to deliver optimum results for our clients.
And what measurement system does Airport Media use and why? What does it offer you compared to other forms of measurement?
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, we layer multiple data sources in order to get a holistic picture of the audience at the airport and the results of the campaigns we run.
What is the biggest change you have seen in airport DOOH since you became involved in it?
The seismic shift towards DOOH over classic sites. This increase in digitization has led to an increase in reactive, clever campaigns using live data feeds and playing on factors in the macro environment, which in turn has made ad campaigns even more effective. As a result, airport advertising is increasingly seen as a channel in its own right, tapping into domestic as well as international budgets and so increasingly being used for tactical campaigns as well as longer-term branding.
- What is the most innovative advertising campaign that you have run on Airport Media? Please tell us about it.
We recently ran an engaging and inventive campaign for Jameson’s at London Gatwick. The brand linked experiential space with digital media to create a unique and memorable campaign. Over a four-day period, footage from the Jameson’s #beoriginal photo booth was transmitted instantly across the airport using live video feeds, as Jameson’s target audience posed in the photo booth for the chance to win a trip to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day.
The consumer-generated content dominated Gatwick South Terminal on large format digital – our Rotators and Pillars – as well as on digital 6-sheets. This is a great example of how screen technology can amplify the effectiveness of other media in the airport environment. The photo booth and campaign reached a far greater audience than an experiential site alone could deliver. And it was really fun – which fits perfectly with the mindset of people waiting in the airport to head off on holiday.
Does airport advertising lend itself more easily to gesture-based, interactive, or other beyond-standard formats? And how about beacons or sensors?
Yes, it does, because of the dwell time and passenger mindset in the airport. In the context of the airport, at the start of a journey, consumers are much more willing to discover new things and enjoy new experiences, because they are anticipating doing exactly that on their break away from ‘normal’. So not only will consumers seek new experiences at the airport, but they will also fully engage with them.
Interactive involvement in advertising makes it more memorable and the brand more appreciated for providing entertainment and distraction. Interactivity can also add absolute, measurable value to consumers. In a highly effective campaign, Columbus Insurance installed pods at London Gatwick to enable the straightforward last minute purchase of travel insurance.
Bringing mobile interaction into the picture, beacons have been much talked about, and London Gatwick Airport has run a trial with them over the last six months. I think it’s still early stages in terms of consumer engagement with the technology, but we are certainly hoping to see further movement in this space in the coming months.
- What do you envision for the airport advertising sector between now and 2020?
I predict that the digital estate in airports will increase and diversify from a predominance of smaller format digital sites to larger format digital sites as well. There will be more sponsorship, domination and ‘ownership’ campaigns where brands leverage the different capabilities of a variety of media formats to become synonymous with an area of the airport, and the consumer experience in that area.
Passenger numbers have increased consistently over the last few years and are forecast to continue to do so, which will also increase the reach and value of airport media.
The ‘always-on’ mindset of airport travelers will become more desirable as, at other points in their lives, consumers become increasingly adept at ad-blocking, both literally, via technology; and figuratively, by ‘tuning out’ unwanted commercial messages. This isn’t the case in the airport, where advertising is sought out and engaged with. Therefore, increasing numbers of brands will want to take advantage of the unique opportunity.
Creatively, airports will be one of the few environments where full motion digital content is allowed. The potential of this is huge, particularly when coupled with airports’ dwell time and engagement.
Airport advertising will continue to go from strength to strength because the multiple communication streams it offers to advertisers – such as programmatic, domination, tactical, and long-term branding, to name but a few – provide excellent opportunities for growth overall.