Lee Rafkin: Hi Anna and Kym. This was going to be a big week for OOH – we were supposed to be in Phoenix for the annual OOH Media Conference.
Anna Bager: I know. It’s so disappointing that we had to cancel. I was looking forward to representing the industry, meeting lots of new faces, and celebrating OOH’s historic performance in 2019.
Kym Frank: It’s really unfortunate. We’ve been auditioning speakers, shooting video, preparing speeches and planning workshops for over a year. We had some great speakers and workshops lined up, not to mention an all-new golf tournament and some other awesome events. Though it won’t ever replace the real thing, we’ve launched a virtual conference portal this week which you can see here. There are no parties included, but the portal does feature some cool video messages, as well as insights and learnings that would have been presented in Phoenix. It’s our effort to maintain some sense of normalcy.
Lee: Maintaining normalcy must be hard. How are you doing it?
Anna: It’s challenging, because things aren’t normal. But we’re doing everything we can to manage through this. I’ve been very impressed by the resiliency and ‘can-do’ spirit of our industry. I’ve seen so many inspiring examples of OOH companies stepping up, donating inventory, partnering with governments, feeding the needy, and lending a hand with masks, gowns, and PPE. It is really important work, and people are noticing the positive role OOH is playing in their communities.
Kym: There have been a few good things coming out of this crisis that may help define a ‘new normal’ moving forward. First, building on what Anna said, the crisis has shined a light on the essential role OOH plays in informing and educating the public. Communication with the public has never been more important, and OOH is doing its part. Second, OOH is made up of great people who care a lot about each other. All you have to do is log in to one of our Thursday virtual happy hours to experience it. It may seem like a small thing, but the crisis has made our OOH family grow even closer together as a community.
Lee: What’s your outlook for the future?
Anna: Well, I’m starting to see positive signs. It feels like we have flattened the curve, and some markets are recovering faster than others. There are indications that some states will open up for business in the next few weeks, which is a real positive for our members. It’s important to remember that before the crisis hit, OOH was in a great position. Our fundamentals were sound. We were experiencing historic growth and increasing our market share for the first time in many years. Advertisers will come back. It’s our job to make sure we’re ready when they do. We have to stay positive. As Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” We must decide to be courageous.
Kym: In the spirit of focusing on the positive, we’ve just released new data from Geopath that I think is hopeful news. Though the rebound will be choppy and uneven, things are getting better overall. People are getting out and moving around more. For the week ending April 13th, the average number of daily miles traveled by Americans rose 5.7%, to about 10.3 miles per day. That’s still down 44% from the February high of 18.4 miles, but it is trending up. More than 50% of all measured traffic is still there. As restrictions begin to be lifted across the country, we will continue to monitor the data and keep the industry informed of what we are seeing.
Lee: Do you think anything good will come out of this?
Anna: When the market rebounds, I think OOH has a historic opportunity to permanently reset the market and take market share from other media that were already in decline when the Coronavirus hit. We have a lot of advantages as an advertising medium. People have seen OOH play a helpful role in communities around the country. They like our medium. They trust our medium. We are brand safe. We deliver impressive ROI. I’m hopeful that longer term, OOH will benefit.
Kym: I think the crisis will make OOH more productive and resourceful – changing the way our industry works. A good example is digital adoption, which has accelerated at a blistering pace since early March. OOH sales teams, instead of traveling to make live sales calls, are relying on videoconferencing to meet with customers. They’re relying more on data and automation. This is a positive trend that will continue post-Coronavirus.
Lee: What are you doing now to respond to the crisis?
Kym: At Geopath, our brand has always been about making the OOH marketplace smarter. So we are leaning in to that promise by opening up our entire Geopath Mobility Dashboard to the public. We’re releasing real-time metrics to the entire media industry. And, we’re providing anonymized audience location data to researchers, helping them model population movements throughout the country in conjunction with COVID-19 infection rates. We are trying to play a positive role because we are truly all in this together.
Anna: We’ve taken a number of steps at OAAA, too. We’ve given members a two-month reprieve on dues. We’ve opened up our OAAA library and made everything available for free, so the entire market can access the research and case studies that prove how effective OOH is. We’re conducting advertiser, member, and consumer sentiment studies every three weeks and sharing that broadly. We’re working at the state level to make sure OOH is classified as an ‘essential’ business, so members can keep operating. We’re educating members on how to apply for fiscal stimulus funds. And, we’re calling on government agencies to do more paid OOH advertising to communicate with the public. These efforts are helping OOH a lot.
Lee: It seems that both OAAA and Geopath have become more open and accessible?
Anna: Yes. My job is to help the OOH industry grow. The more information OAAA can provide that helps people see the strength and value of OOH, the better.
Kym: For sure. I’m a big believer that extreme circumstances accelerate innovation. You have to adapt, think big, and be entrepreneurial in challenging times. If we seize this opportunity by becoming more nimble and responsive to the marketplace, we’ll come out of this as a stronger industry.
Lee: Anything you want people to keep in mind as they navigate these extraordinary times?
Anna: First and foremost, OOH has a solid value proposition. OOH will always be the best way to reach real people in the real world. That will never change. We need to embrace uncertainty, not run from it. In the near term, there will definitely be challenges. But in the long term, OOH is as powerful as ever.
Kym: We need to be ready to hit the ground running when people start going out of home. Our industry has faced serious challenges before, and it has always thrived. We got this!
Marketing consultant Lee Rafkin joined Anna Bager (CEO of OAAA) and Kym Frank (President of Geopath) to discuss how the Coronavirus crisis is impacting the out of home advertising industry. These are excerpts from their interview. Rafkin&Co is an an independent brand consulting and marketing firm founded in 2002. Our value proposition is simple. They deliver global experience, innovative thinking, bold creativity, and exceptional client service.