CEO Spotlight: Sarah Parkes, Eye, London, U.K.

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

This month we welcome Sarah Parkes, Managing Director, Eye, London, U.K..


  1. You are relatively new to the digital outdoor world. What did you learn at CDS Global that you’ve been able to implant into your current position?

    My 20-year career at CDS Global, a leading international provider of outsourced business solutions to the media industry and part of the Hearst Corporation, gave me a terrific grounding in client service within an equally fast moving, service-led organization. I was privileged to have worked with a diverse mix of clients and associates there, under whose mentorship I learned the importance of relationships, service delivery, and the secret of under-promising and over-delivering!

  2. Eye has undergone a lot of change under your leadership with the recent merger with Airport Partners moving you from corporate global ownership to private UK entrepreneurial ownership. Tell us about the recent merger between Airport Partners & Eye: what are the synergies and how will this benefit the Out-of-Home market?

    In Feb./13, Airport Partners, the regional airport advertising specialist, purchased Eye UK from previous Australian owners, Ten Network Holdings Limited. The deal positioned us as the largest airport advertising company in the U.K., representing 28 airports and reaching over 102 million airport passengers annually. Eye has a robust London and national presence and Airport Partners has a very strong regional sales presence. There is much synergy between the two and our collective U.K. footprint is now significantly larger.

    With the recent OFT (Office of Free Trading) clearance, we are now combining the individual key strengths to create Eye, the premier U.K. Airport advertising company. With 28 U.K. Airports under management, Eye is now leading the aviation media industry here. We invest in the very best talent; deliver leading edge technology; have implemented a scalable mobile solution; have proven airport media effectiveness through specialized neuro-imaging research; and have a proven regional sales model for generating continued revenue growth. We are now the only player in the Airport Advertising market that offers a truly national and regional proposition.

    The OOH market in the U.K. as a whole has seen a great deal of consolidation over the last 15 – 20 years. Among the benefits of this have been: improvements in standards of displays, better equipment, and formats presented more attractively with investments in upgrades to inventory. For OOH to have been the lead medium for the London 2012 Olympics would have been inconceivable without such progress having been made. Before the Beijing Olympics took place in 2008, a massive cull of poor quality and illegal sites was put in hand in order to bring the medium up to scratch. No such thing needed to happen here!

    However, with some notable exceptions, airports have not been at the vanguard of these improvements. With the acquisition by Airport Partners, the opportunity now exists for the airport element of the U.K. OOH market to improve through the efforts of the two major players. The next months and years will see the airport OOH media proposition develop and mature in a manner that will make it even more attractive to advertisers and their agencies.

    Similar improvements to those that have taken place in the other non-airport environments will now follow. Buying campaigns will become easier; consistencies and standards will be driven into the business by the media owners; investments will be made in kit; selling will be more intuitive; synergies with OOH media in other environments will be explored; national distribution and coverage will be possible in a way hitherto unimagined.

    All of these will benefit the OOH market as a whole and specifically the airport segment.

  3. Through your recent merger with Airport Partners your airport network has expanded. Please tell us where you are in terms of airports, locations, and the type of signage you offer in them. 

    Eye are now truly national and manage media in 28 airports across the U.K., including among them: London Gatwick, Manchester, Leeds Bradford, Stansted, Belfast International, Newcastle and Inverness. We offer a wide range of media formats within these hubs such as interactive media walls, large format digitals, lightboxes and 6 sheets, alongside experiential and sponsorship opportunities. Eye’s offering to brands encompasses traditional media sales, promotional and experiential sales, and innovative media.

    At Eye, we are proud to point to our successful history of combining all forms of communication, whether static, digital, ambient, interactive or innovative. We do not see individual formats, we see a broad palette of communication options, and we work with our clients and their agencies to craft the most appropriate and effective holistic solution to their communication challenges.

    Eye is the digital pioneer in Airport advertising and the loudest and most consistent advocates. Our digital estate has long been market-leading in terms of both hardware and software. We were the first to adopt 70” portrait format screens on a widespread basis within our Eyelite network and our landscape large format ‘Grand’ units are among the biggest and best to be found in any European airport.

    Another first was the installation of our interactive digital Media Walls, now available in Gatwick and Manchester. They have a proven ROI model as brands take advantage of this unrivalled opportunity to make the most of passenger dwell time, proximity to point of sale, and propensity to purchase.

    At Eye, we know that digital media doesn’t offer value unless its placement, positioning and frequency is based on proven insights. However, get this right and the return on investment is guaranteed – especially against a backdrop of continued growth in Outdoor and Digital Outdoor supported by the latest OMC industry figures.

  4. I believe you recently did a neuroscience study in several airports to measure the brainwaves of travelers exposed to your products; advertising. How and when was this conducted and what kind of results did you get? Will you conduct similar studies on an ongoing basis?

    In Feb./12, we commissioned a pioneering neuroscience study to understand subconscious reaction to airport advertising and, from this, evidence the success of airport media effectiveness. The study involved gathering a sample of 150 participants, who were all due to fly within one month, in testing halls across London and Manchester airports. The respondents were fitted with a headset as they watched a 30-minute video of a typical airport journey and a typical roadside journey that featured a range of dynamic and static advertising creative. Sensors in the headset recorded participants’ brain electrical activity in order to assess their respective reaction to the creative.

    The research reported five key findings: ads have a long-term impact on airport audience memory; ad creative, format and environment have a profound impact on consumers’ emotions; dynamic digital copy considerably heightens brand messaging; response to airport ads are 18% higher than roadside; and responses to digital ads are 21% higher than static. Eye was the first media owner to invest in such a significant study and the findings have delivered invaluable benefit to our clients in terms of helping them leverage effective advertising creative at the airport. The research attributed over £150K ROI overall; Gatwick Express increased their spend with us by 64%; and TUI Travel invested an extra £20K as a result.

    The findings from our neuroscience research are still pertinent so we have no plans to launch any similar studies at this time, although we will look to commission other research in the future.

  5. You collaborated last year with Initiative, Rapport Worldwide and Monster Media to create the virtual store of Tesco at Gatwick Airport. What was Eye’s role, and what happened with this in terms of results, sales and satisfaction on various fronts? It was a two-week test in a high holiday period. Since then, what are future plans for this?

    It might be worth mentioning that the Tesco activity had a fore-runner, albeit in a different environment with different execution, in one of the most technologically advanced consumer markets in the world, namely South Korea. It was on the subway system but it involved passengers being able to do a virtual shop while waiting for their trains, using their hand held devices. To be doing something here in a market not normally seen as being as advanced as South Korea in this context, is I think, significant and speaks volumes for the business. I do not see evidence of other UK OOH media owners doing it!

    Tesco approached Eye to deliver an innovative solution that blended mCommerce and digital OOH through a ‘clicks and bricks’ strategy. The ‘Don’t come home to an empty fridge’ campaign therefore invited flyers to download an app and view a range of everyday products on interactive digital 6 sheets at Gatwick Airport, scan the bar codes via their smart phones and book a delivery slot for when they returned home from holiday. The initiative was originally launched on the subway system in Korea so Eye brought the concept to the UK.

    The campaign reached 3,000 new customers a day during the two-week initiative; secured 135,000 interactions with an average dwell time of four minutes (well above industry standard); facilitated an app rating increase of two-to-four stars; and was also featured on the BBC news. It enabled data capture for Tesco and, overall, created a new shopping occasion for their customers in an environment in which they didn’t operate previously. Equally, it helped us grow our own year-on-year revenue by 151% across the FMCG category.

    It was a media first and has been lauded by industry figureheads such as Erik Juul-Mortensen, TFWA (Tax Free World Association) president. who said at his TFWA keynote speech: “Its very presence [Tesco’s virtual store] signals that Gatwick Airport understands that passengers expect to find the latest technology in airports. Augmented reality is taking salesmanship to a new dimension.” Mike Baker, CEO at the OMC also commented: “Eye’s digital work with Tesco has been very well received and well-publicized, both within Outdoor industry circles and across the wider media landscape. It’s a formidable example of new technology providing a new route to market, and for Tesco to be seen as cutting edge and exciting.”

    Tesco significantly boosted sales for Eye, raised our brand profile, and positioned us alongside the big industry players. Given the fact that we’ve just recruited a Head of Experiential, we expect to be delivering more campaigns like it in the near future!

  6. In malls, advertisers are delivering their messages to people’s cell phones. When did you start this and how has it been progressing?

    With the advent of mobile convergence we believed that the industry lacked a sound, scalable solution to mobile. So in June/12, we launched Amplify, the world’s largest mobile enabled DOOH network which connects our entire digital inventory nationwide. The fact that QR, NFC, SMS and Wifi technology are embedded in the units means that each site is compatible with every U.K. mobile handset. And advanced analytics measure how, when and where the audience responds to determine ROI.

    Eye was, again, first to market with its mobile solution Amplify, enabling consumers to access content via their table/mobile device. Under our Amplify brand, a whole host of possibilities are feasible, in addition to a conventional digital airport campaign. This has been successfully used by Tesco at Gatwick and Juul-Mortensen, the TFWA president referenced this campaign as “leading the way in airport media innovation and confirming that passengers now expect to find the latest technology in airports.”

    In terms of progress since, we’ve recruited a Head of Mobile who is regularly invited to deliver thought leadership at mobile-related events and seminars. Our Canon Amplify campaign won The Moodies ‘Best Use of Digital Media on the Concourse – Airport’ award. And, for the first time, in May this year, we ran two concurrent mobile campaigns (for Microsoft and publisher, Simon & Schuster) on our network.

    There is still much work to be done in terms of mobile technology as customers are still not fully comfortable – and sufficiently educated – on how to interact with adverts. In this respect, we are in the process of redesigning our branded Amplify tags so that the call-to-action is even clearer.

  7. You offer an easy three-step opportunity for advertisers/agencies to put their creative on one of your screens before committing to buying. On what kind of screens can they try their creative: virtual billboards, videowalls, mall screens or what?

    We are in the midst of redesigning our site and not sure this feature will be part of the new site. It was a Global initiative so maybe not relevant, but we won’t know that until we have completed the current re-brand project.

  8. Several companies are developing/using eye tracking in various ways. What is different about what you do in this regard?

    Our neuroscience research followed an earlier eye tracking study at Manchester Airport. Many companies are indeed now using eye-tracking technology but our former took a step further into demonstrating the value of media engagement: proving that passengers are attentive and emotionally engaged in the airport environment.

  9. I notice that, prior to your joining in Apr./12, Eye has been undergoing a program to revamp after gathering feedback from customers, deciding on a new strategy, and giving its own brand new values and behaviours. What did it learn that made it take this approach, and what are these new values and behaviours?

    The Eye rebrand began in Jan./12. Its purpose was to understand perception of the (former) Eye brand by garnering feedback from clients, airport and agency partners, and OOH specialists through a series of 60 hours of one-to-one interviews. The results highlighted where the brand was performing and under-performing, which formed the basis of the re-brand strategy.

    The new brand identity was launched internally and externally via an array of marketing channels. It resulted in the creation of new sales approach; a new set of brand values (Empathy, Integrity and Initiative); and behaviours (Rise above the day-to-day; Take strategic ownership; Lead, don’t follow; Get to the point; Embrace the whole medium; and Enjoy the ride).

    In addition to the long list of qualitative achievements which the re-brand delivered (eg. more customer empathy, a higher commitment to product excellence, better value based relationships and a more committed staff), the project also delivered a range of quantitative results that were achieved through post-re-brand campaigns and initiatives.

    By putting our customers (advertisers, agencies and property partners) at the centre of everything we do, our brand, product offering and suite of solutions became the most relevant in the market and helped our clients, partners, shareholders and employees to prosper and grow.

  10. Since you have been there, how has this progressed? Has it been put into practice? Examples? What are you doing to keep the momentum going? With the recent merger will this still be relevant?

    The company has since witnessed significant growth and the structure of the team has progressed enormously too, largely through the recruitment of two key roles: Sales and Marketing Director and Regional Sales Director. In line with our brand aspirations we are fast acquiring a reputation for our creativity and forward-thinking sales approach. We were the first company to feature at JWT London’s famous ‘WOW’ session, where we presented on innovation in media (and the fact that Google, Twitter and Apple presented at the agency’s subsequent two sessions speaks for itself!). Our digital arrivals network was shortlisted at both the DailyDOOH Gala Awards 2012 and for Campaign Media Awards’ Outdoor Sales Team of the Year 2012 – which, naturally, we’re hoping to win next time around!

    We will still be retaining the Eye brand, however over the coming months we will be tweaking our brand values and behaviors to ensure they are relevant for our newly merged entities.

  11. Please tell us a bit about your plans for expansion.

    With 28 airports now under our management our hands are full in the short term. Our initial expansion plans will not be to extend our footprint but to extend our digital offering within the airports we manage. Our initial plans will see us upgrade the media estate across our regional airports with the installation of 75-100 digital screens.

  12. If you personally could do one thing to improve the digital out-of-home business, what would it be?

    I would like to try and solve the ongoing issue with lack of good creative for digital out of home. Creative content is one area that needs to improve in order to match the digital inventory now available for advertisers to use. All DOOH campaigns should have creative made specifically with the end use in mind, rather than relying on adaptations of existing work created for other formats. This would elevate the DOOH business considerably, and this applies not just to airports but to other environments, too.

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