Alex Hollingdale, Product Director, Clear Channel UK

Guest Contributor, James Thornton

Clear Channel is one of the giants of the Out Of Home (OOH) industry. Long before digital screens arrived on the scene, Clear Channel were in the business of delivering mass audiences via its vast roadside and mall estate.

For a company of Clear Channel’s size, the possibilities thrown up by the arrival of digital are seemingly endless. But, spotting the right opportunities is more of an art form. Enter Alex Hollingdale

Hollingdale is Product Director at Clear Channel UK. Working across the entire business, it’s Hollingdale’s job to “marry up the current and future needs of clients [advertisers, agencies etc.] with an external picture of technology or consumer habits and then find ways for Clear Channel to evolve in order to best meet those needs”.

Hollingdale’s very role at Clear Channel is indicative of an industry going through an intense period of change, brought about by the explosion of digital and new technologies. As Hollingdale puts it, “in an industry that doesn’t change much you wouldn’t need my role”.But in the OOH industry, the process of managing change and evolving is at the heart of future success.

For Hollingdale, spotting future trends in the OOH industry isn’t just a case of navel-gazing; new opportunities need to be analysed with a “commercial lens” to ensure that future solutions are actually wanted or needed by their customers. Unsurprising really, when you consider Hollingdale’s life before OOH.

Before Clear Channel, Hollingdale was in a product-led role at TalkTalk, as well as holding commercial roles at Diageo and Kraft. It was here that his instinct for identifying customer needs, and solving them was first developed. Since joining Clear Channel, Hollingdale used this experience to bring new thinking and a fresh approach to the OOH medium.

Hollingdale is one of many recent appointments in the OOH sector to come from a non-OOH background. Gone are the days of the OOH merry-go-round. Kinetic CEO, Stuart Taylor, comes from a Press background and Head of Digital at JCDecaux, Stacey Knight, previously worked in online, see ‘JCDecaux Shapes Sales Team For Digital Future‘. This fresh new talent pool entering the OOH market has challenged conventional thinking about OOH and has helped drive change in the OOH industry.

It was this kind of thinking that resulted in Clear Channel launching Storm at the tail end of 2013. Set-up as a new kind of media owner, Storm is comprised of Clear Channel’s most premium roadside sites. As Hollingdale explains, Storm has a “massive filter on site selection … they have to be the best”.

Storm’s mantra is to ‘redefine premium out of home’ and it is doing this by turning the traditional OOH trading model on its head.

Gone are the two week fixed in-charge periods and 30-second shared loops. Instead, advertisers can now buy sites individually, either for a few hours at a time, or completely own the site for a long-term period. For Hollingdale, Storm was “borne out of a growing frustration amongst our clients with existing loop structures and fixed in-charge periods for premium sites”, and reflects Clear Channel’s desire to listen to their customers.

Storm was able to announce its arrival in style with the stunning #LookUp campaign for British Airways. Its timing couldn’t have been better for Storm. In case you’re the one person who hasn’t heard about this campaign (it’s had over one million YouTube hits!), then let me explain.

As BA planes flew over Storm’s Chiswick Towers and Piccadilly screens, advertising was triggered that displayed BA’s creative of a child pointing at the plane alongside live flight data. The campaign, which has received widespread acclaim, is even more fascinating when Hollingdale explains exactly how they did it.

The ads would only appear on screen once a number of different criteria had been met. The clever folk at Storm were able to track flights and identify flight paths to calculate when each plane would pass either Chiswick Towers or Piccadilly Circus. Weather conditions were also factored in, meaning that if the cloud cover was too low and the planes weren’t visible, the advert wouldn’t be played. Finally, the exact timing of the ad had to be calculated to coincide with a plane passing through an optimal piece of airspace, so that the plane would appear above the screen at the right moment.

Meanwhile, back at Clear Channel the digital evolution continues across their wider estate. In 2008, Clear Channel first began rolling out its digital network of screens into pubs (the Socialite network) and shopping malls. Over the last six years, much of the digital growth in the mall environment has been organic and the result of converting much of its existing inventory and new contract wins.

Across its roadside portfolio, Clear Channel also installed a handful of digital 48 sheet screens, but their attention soon turned to an upgrade of its largest roadside format: the mighty six sheet!

Adshel is Clear Channel’s roadside six sheet product. In 2011, Clear Channel begun roll out of ‘LD6’ screens in London, converting 100 carefully-selected Adshel panels into digital screens

And they’ve proved very popular with advertisers too, as Hollingdale explains, “They’re pretty much always sold out .. they are a great digital format in their own right…being in central London locations adds even more appeal to advertisers”.

It seems somewhat fitting that Clear Channel’s most popular digital format is an evolution of its staple product – Adshel. However, it’s not just the addition of a screen that has transformed this product, but also the introduction of interactive tags in bus stops nationwide.

Clear Channel’s Mobile Platform is now installed in 10,000 bus stops in the UK. The tags allow people to tap or scan the advertising panels through NFC or QR code technology, linking to additional content for the brands advertising at the bus stop.

For Hollingdale, Adshel six sheets will always remain a key broadcast media formats, “advertisers can still get the amazing broadcast benefits of an Adshel campaign – 75% cover with a frequency of seven”, but the added layer of engagement offered through mobile opens up new opportunities for advertisers to have a deeper engagement with their audience.

To date, over 70 different brands have used Clear Channel’s Mobile Platform, and in doing so Clear Channel have enriched their understanding of the channel. For example, data has shown that peak usage levels occur at 3-4pm, pointing to a younger audience being the most inclined to try new technologies. Interestingly, engagement levels are also higher at bus stops with a digital screen.

Clear Channel’s ‘mobile platform’ is deliberately named as such. As Hollingdale recognizes, “we’re not the mobile experts, but we do have an asset [its OOH estate and the audience that engages with it] and a willingness to work with our clients to understand the best solutions”. In the future, it might be iBeacon or whatever new technology turns up. One thing for sure is that the worlds of mobile and OOH are colliding.

According to Hollingdale, half of all smartphone usage takes place out of the home. Mobile interactions take place when consumers are ‘out of home’; the only difference being that the audience now carry their own screen, rather than viewing someone else’s.

It’s something that other OOH players have spotted too, with Posterscope now using EE data to better understanding OOH behaviours and with WEVE working with many leading OOH media owners to offer geofencing capabilities.

So, what does the future look like for OOH? I ask Hollingdale to look in to his crystal ball. “The things I see colliding are mobile, improved digital capabilities and challenging old assumptions about OOH that suggest the medium is still all about two week posting cycles”.

The pace of change in OOH is breathtaking at the moment, but you can be sure that Hollingdale and the team at Clear Channel will be keeping a close eye on the changes that really matter and producing solutions to match.

Leave a Reply