Company restructuring and turn-around specialist, Ad Outpost CEO Sonnet Swanepoel speaks about developments in the out-of-home media industry.

A career heading project finance in merchant banking and years in investment banking, enabled Sonnet to develop insight into companies and methods to maximize their potential. This led to her becoming a company restructuring and turn-around specialist.

Pinpointing weaknesses

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She says that after a month at the helm of Ad Outpost she came to the conclusion that the out-of-home industry is, embarrassingly, “a rogue industry with apparent substantial bribery and corruption.” Some of this can be attributed to the lack of clear regulations which have led to many media owners having unapproved assets. This, among other factors, has led to a number of legal battles among the players as well as the powers granting site advertising rights.

An OHMSA (Out-of-home Media South Africa) Exco meeting revealed a lack of industry collaboration. OHMSA needed to address the following:

  • In-fighting with regards to secured site space.
  • Smaller players leaving the association.
  • Smaller members not heard; larger players running the show.
  • Total ad-spend for out-of-home advertising only 4.5%.
  • Challenges with councils and site rights.
  • Poor public acceptance of out-of-home medium.

Solutions proposed

“In terms of the changing economic landscape, we decided the time is right to re-look at OHMSA’s structure and that of our member companies.” Discussions to overcome these challenges are underway. An important focus is building the industry and increasing out-of-home ad-spend.

Sonnet has established corporate governance at Ad Outpost and the company is run in line with the Companies Act. Measures have been implemented to avoid legal disputes where possible but to engage with others to find solutions.

Competitor collaboration

“We are also making an effort to work with competitors to create an increase in ad-spend.” She says internationally ad-spend for out-of-home averages around 15% of industry ad-spend. In South Africa it is only 4.5%. “South Africa’s should be a lot higher. There are thousands of households without a television, but all can be targeted with outdoor media.”

She feels the industry must be re-positioned. “We have to improve the way we portray ourselves, especially to agencies, and show what benefits outdoor advertising has to offer.” There has been insecurity related to approved sites and boards but this is changing. “It is not a pleasant space to be in. Boards go up and then pulled down, inevitably leading to legal concerns. There is no benefit for clients, agencies, marketers or the public, and the affect on the industry is already known.”

To begin with, out-of-home companies must have approved assets. Ad Outpost underway with this process.

Public perception

Erecting and dismantling billboards cause havoc and some boards are an ‘eye-sore’.

To overcome this, media owner collaboration is being extended to municipal councils. “This added value to our collaborative effort,” Sonnet is convinced, “will help us produce product that is acceptable to the public.

Creative consensus

As far as creativity is concerned, Sonnet says marketers feel the industry does not optimize the creative potential available. A number of media owners now work with marketers and advertising and creative agencies to overcome this.

The essence is for media owners to engage with agencies and clients to maximize the effect of out-of-home space. “This can be achieved through correct creatives, and accurate strategies should be applied in executing the whole out-of-home campaign.”

A positive attitude

Ad Outpost is testing the waters using positive slogans on some of its boards located. The aim is to get public buy-in of out-of-home advertising. “Our medium can be used to build the country rather than destroy it,” she says emphatically. “Viewing our messages and slogans can be a fun experience for motorists stuck in traffic.” Plans to extend the campaign countrywide are in place. 

“We also aim to bring ‘the good news’ to the public. There is so much bad news in daily media; we want to spread the good.” The company currently has a campaign running in Bloemfontein where a number of billboards are branded: ‘Let’s build our nation – together we can!’

The company uses its unallocated space to publicize and advocate deserving charities.

Expanding the Association

OHMSA is embarking on a road show to attract former members back into the association; publicize new policies; and invite entities which could form part of the Association’s expanded framework.

Aside from the obvious players, OHMSA wants to include all stake holders – suppliers, agencies and other companies affiliated to the out-of-home industry.