This month we welcome Don Allman, President and CEO, Titan, New York.
- While other companies seem to think that verticals are the way to go, eg. health or elevators or travel, etc., you seem to be spread out across a number of sectors, and are very strong in several such as transit and retail malls. Can you see yourself eventually concentrating in one or two verticals and selling off others? Why or why not?
Our passion and focus is around ‘People in Transit’. It’s always been our core business because consumers on the move are a very desirable audience who are otherwise difficult to impact. We’re able to deliver big reach and targeted audiences to our advertising partners, as well as consumers who are captive with long dwell times. Focusing on ‘People in Transit’ means that we’re able to connect diverse venues together in ways that help tell the consumer story more effectively. Our media is often the last advertising exposure consumers have before they make a purchasing decision and even our Mobile platforms are positioned to take advantage of the non-sedentary consumer. As we grow Titan, it will always be around this central idea.
Our passion and focus will continue to be Out-of-Home driven, and new business that we develop or purchase will reflect this. We don’t think any of our ‘networks’ aren’t in our focus. Rather, we believe that transportation advertising can include transit, airport and digital advertising on all transportation vehicles. Therefore, we have no intention currently of divesting any of these networks.
- Are you planning to convert your static products in each sector to digital? Please give us some insight as to your thinking in that regard?
The easy answer to this is Yes. In fact, we began this process back in 2008. Much of our media is in the perfect environment for digital conversion – captive audiences, long dwell times and bottle necks where we can maximize exposure and impressions. As well as benefiting advertisers, our digital media brings value to consumers as well. It informs them about delays, or the weather at their next destination. Or it just entertains them while they wait for or ride their train or airplane. This draws consumer attention toward the screens and makes the advertising very effective. We still envision a significant role for non-digital though, for advertisers who want to build reach and frequency cost effectively but who don’t want to share the advertising platform.
- You joined the Digital Place-based Advertising Association recently. Why did you decide to make this move at this time? What do you hope to gain from it?
The DPAA has made impressive progress on behalf of the digital place-based industry. Our digital media certainly fits into their description of Content and Context. The next step for Titan is to have our digital media measured as we continue to expand our footprint into new markets. We hope our DPAA membership will help us bring a specific focus to the sales of our digital network and allow us to position it to a new constituency of advertisers.
- Who are the owners of Titan? Do they, or you, plan any mergers, buyouts or divestitures for Titan in 2013? Please explain your thoughts on same.
We are privately held. Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe is Titan’s Private Equity Partner. Our world class Bank Group is led by GE Capital. The plans for Titan in 2013, as in every year Titan has been in existence (since 2001), are to grow the business organically or through acquisition, in areas that we believe we are expert in. We continue to have full support from our Private Equity group and our Banks.
- You opened a new sector, Titan Air, in 2012. With all the sectors you are already in, why did you want to add the airline business? And is it measuring up to your hopes for Titan Air so far?
Titan Air is perfectly aligned with the ‘People in Transit’ philosophy. In markets where we have both Mass Transit and Airport media, we can tell an incredibly connected consumer story. In the short amount of time since we launched the division, we have already won two Airport contracts: Westchester County in New York, and John Wayne Airport in Orange County. We are pleased with our progress to date and are looking forward to making some more exciting announcements soon.
- You are growing significantly in Canada as well as the U.S., especially with outdoor digital boards. Do you offer all your products in each market? Why or why not?
Our Canadian market is different from our U.S. market and we treat it in a way that reflects that. In all of our U.S. markets, we have products that you can buy across them all. This means that we can become a one-stop-shop for our clients in the markets we are in. We are in the process of creating media in Canada that can be bought the same way across the country’s major markets – in this case digital bulletins.
- Is growth in Canada a prelude to further international growth? What are your expansion hopes and plans?
Our focus for the near future is growth in North America, but we won’t rule out expansion beyond this continent. We have had real success in expanding our Canadian business in 2012 and have some exciting announcements ahead for both the U.S. and Canada.
- We were very impressed with your people and your offices when we visited you during Digital Week last October. And in Canada, you added strength in the hiring of Andy Querin in 2012. What is your hiring strategy? What do you look for when adding staff?
Titan looks for passionate, high-energy people for every office. We also like people with a multitude of interests who have fun in their life and bring this positive energy into our company. Admitting my bias, I believe we have the best people in the industry, throughout our organization.
- You have worked in the out-of-home sector for more than 30 years. Give us your thoughts on where the OOH sector, and particularly the digital OOH sector, is headed over the next two or three years.
I believe that we are on the verge of a renaissance for OOH. Digital evolution, new world-class measurement, the continued fragmentation of other media and the complementary nature of OOH with Mobile, all point to the next few years being the most exciting and rewarding the industry has ever experienced. It will take a huge amount of hard work from everybody in the industry to fulfill that promise as we try to evolve though. The good work the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), the Traffic Audit Bureau (TAB) and DPAA do is vital for our Industry to make this change.
It will also be interesting to see the impact digital buying platforms such as Spafax can help to deliver more value to the segment. We anticipate this will spur significant growth in the sector. It doesn’t feel like 30 years, by the way. I have loved the Out-of-Home business every day of my career, and hope for 30 more years!
- What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for DOOH in 2013?
DOOH is an incredibly diverse arena. The key challenge for vendors is ensuring that they understand what makes their network special and unique. Being measured is key so that agencies can begin to create larger buys from smaller constituent parts.
- I notice on your web site that Titan gives media value to charity campaigns to help build awareness and raise funds for them. As a company, does Titan give back to communities in other ways? Explain, please.
‘Titan Cares’ is something we’ve been doing since the company first opened its doors in 2001. Each office around the country regularly donates time and/or money to a charity or cause that is important to them. We plan to expand these initiatives even more in 2013, in the years to come.
Our community involvement initiatives are done through our Titan Cares banner. Our employees literally feed homeless people in soup kitchens or deliver food to those in need. Our employees mentor children at risk. Our employees work to raise money in such things as walks for cancer awareness and for cystic fibrosis. We are very proud of our involvement in our local communities and we continue to encourage this involvement to grow.
- I also notice on your web site that you are making specific efforts to be more ‘green’. Can you explain what you are doing in that regard?
Mass Transit advertising is perhaps the greenest advertising medium there is! A large part of the revenue we create goes directly to our transit systems and allows them to keep fares down and invest in cleaner, greener vehicles. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, Titan is the second largest revenue generator after the fare box, meaning that we actively help to reduce carbon emissions. We are constantly looking for other ways to be green as well, including identifying environmentally friendly materials to post with.
- What role do you think social media plays or should play in regards to the DOOH industry?
Social Media is already playing a role in DOOH and vice versa. In 2010, Titan launched a campaign with MySpace called ‘Step Up to the Mic’ which allowed people to email a message to the world which would then be shown on over 1,000 screens internationally. (At the time, we had a large digital network in the UK and Ireland). Social Media continues to play an integrated role in DOOH today because it is a central marketing tool for so many clients. OOH and DOOH have proven to be a gateway for Social Media interactions and, as more and more consumers live their lives through their smartphones and tablets, this will only increase.
By the way, we sold our business in the UK in 2010 to JCDecaux and negotiated a mutually agreed to settlement with CIE in Ireland in 2009. Both of the moves were related to the unprecedented recession of 2009 and 2010. We now have a totally de-levered balance sheet and are stronger financially than any time in the history of our company.
- If you could personally do one thing to help the DOOH industry grow, what would it be?
Our ambition is to bring the same focus to DOOH as we have already brought to OOH. We will continue to grow our network with capital expenditures and also invest in marketing and sales people to spread the Titan DOOH ‘gospel’.
On a personal level, I am constantly telling the story about the importance of digital place-based advertising as its importance in the outdoor business expands. I am a member of the Board of Directors of the TAB and the OAAA and devote a good bit of time to those worthwhile organizations.
Finally, our goal at Titan is to create a company of high energy, innovative people and let them know that their contributions matter both to our company and to the industry as a whole.