Earlier this month, Billups’ Chief Strategy Officer Rick Robinson sat down with Anna Bager, President and CEO, OAAA to discuss the role of OOH during the pandemic and how the industry will help brands recharge and recover in a post-crisis world.
Below are highlights from the conversation.
RR: It seemed as though right around March 15 a pivot happened and the medium shifted into crisis mode. Can you talk a little bit about how that happened?
AB: OOH has a long history of being the medium that people turn to in a crisis – whether they’re brands, municipalities or important causes, like missing children. That’s because we provide more reach than any other medium in the world and people trust us – both consumers and brands – so it’s only natural that we jumped in as an industry to play an important role during this crisis.
RR: OOH has played such an important, public-facing role during the pandemic. How did this come about and why did this fall to OOH? How did you get the message out to communities around the country?
AB: I’ve been incredibly proud and impressed by the industry’s response from Day 1. This crisis has been incredibly fast moving and our response as an industry has been multifaceted and really nimble. At first we partnered with the CDC to get the message out about the importance of washing hands. But as the state and local responses kicked in, our messaging shifted, too. In partnership with the Ad Council and a number of others, OOH underscored the need to stay home to stay safe.
Staying together even while we’re apart is important for everyone right now. And we’ve sought to reinforce these messages as an industry with our partners, whether it’s by thanking essential workers, helping people stay safe and feel strong or supporting the people on the front lines of the response.
What’s more, the PSA campaigns have been really effective at keeping the industry visible and relevant during this strange time, and as a result we’ve once again proved how valuable our medium is to the community and to brands. OOH businesses received an “essential business” designation and this is precisely because of our ability to reach people at scale and with really current, relevant messaging that can change on a dime. As a result, I’m confident that the industry will be well positioned to get back on track once people are able to move about more freely.
RR: How have brands responded? How have they navigated this really unusual environment where people are focused on what’s most essential to them?
AB: Well brands know that OOH is one of the best places to go when they need to pivot their messages quickly to consumers. We’re affordable and fast and, given that production has been disbanded for TV, film and other media, we’re by far the best broadcast medium for brands who want to stay top of mind during the crisis.
What’s interesting is that despite the fact that people are staying home more, we’re seeing that they’re still going out of their homes – they’ve just changed their habits. Maybe they’re not commuting or going as far, but they still need to get food, do essential errands, and things like that. Brands need to adjust to this change in behavior – whether this means trying to reach the consumer just before the point of sale since each trip a consumer makes to a store takes on increased significance for a brand during this time.
RR: What can you tell us about the tone that brands need to be using during this time? What are you seeing?
AB: That’s a great question. Brands have quickly adjusted their tone to reflect the times. Brands want to show that they care, that they are giving back to the community. And the smart ones know that there’s a danger in going dark. The most important thing they can do is to form an authentic relationship with the consumer that will endure once we move beyond this.
RR: One of the questions I’ve been really wanting to ask you is how OOH can help brands and the economy recover?
AB: We’re fast, we’re highly visible and unskippable, and we’re cost effective. Brands have always turned to OOH – digital OOH specifically, when the economy has rebounded because we’re so easy to use, and I’m confident that this will be the case again as we emerge from this. In fact, we’re already seeing signs of an uptick in buys. What’s more, we’re pretty much the only game in town right now when it comes to new creative. So we can get a promotion up and running right away and, with our new attribution capabilities, reach the right consumers in the right places. So I’m confident that OOH will be the place brands turn to first as we recover from this.
RR: What comes next? Where was the industry pre-COVID and is there a reason for optimism about our future?
AB: Well I’m very optimistic. The industry has incredibly strong fundamentals – we’re coming off a record year in 2019 and a very strong first quarter of 2020. The challenges the industry faces right now are directly related to the fact that people are not going outside as much as they were pre-CV-19. But the value of the medium is just as strong and we expect that we will return to form as restrictions ease.
Brands are already signaling that they’re back in business. I think the message that brands put out there will be slightly different than before – more direct, highly relevant communications – and I think this shift may last for some time. Brands have recognized the need to reach consumers in a personal way – even via a one to many platform like OOH. OOH and audio may be the only two platforms where a brand can connect the closest with a consumer in that your brain only has one thing to absorb at the time – each person builds their own story in their head around the message. It’s a very direct way of communication to a consumer.
Looking ahead, I think it’s very likely that we’ll come out of this with stronger relationships with media owners, agencies and brands. Again, everyone loves OOH and trusts us, and I believe that our relationships with cities and the public will be even stronger as a result of our having gone through this together.
Rick Robinson is an OOH Media Executive, Public Speaker, Author, Sculptor. He has been with Billups for the past six years and is currently Partner/Chief Strategy Officer. You can listen to the original podcast interview here.