As we drive towards a new year in 2022, one thing is abundantly clear: It's time to put the past 18 months and all the setbacks in the rearview and focus on what’s ahead. And what’s ahead for us is optimism.
We’re optimistic that the events and shifts in 2020 and 2021 will make us stronger and better. The pain we felt on the business front, rather than holding us back, will allow us to improve and grow.
How the Pandemic Changed Us
Pre-pandemic, the advertising industry had perhaps gotten too comfortable. We forgot our beginnings as scrappy storytellers and were instead consumed by the competitive nature of our work. As we fought to win customer attention in a fast-paced, high-stakes world, we were distracted from our natural tendencies to work together.
The pandemic changed all that.
The out-of-home (OOH) advertising industry took a hit in 2020. We were forced to reconsider our approaches at the most basic levels — but to do so, we had to return to our roots and rely on each other. Yes, we’re still recovering from layoffs and campaign cancellations, but the struggle only reinforced our strength.
New and Improved OOH
With new knowledge and experience under our belts, plus plenty of time to refocus and redesign, the OOH industry is perfectly positioned to make a revolutionary comeback. We’re not just going to get our share of the media pie — we’re going to make sure it keeps getting bigger.
Let’s take a look at the top 5 areas that have offered the OOH industry to evolve during the pandemic, allowing us to compete more effectively with other verticals:
In the OOH industry, part of our job is to educate clients with out-of-home media expertise. We have strategists researching, investigating, quantifying, qualifying, recommending and implementing across every campaign. In this sense, “education” means keeping clients and suppliers "in the know" by laying out clear expectations. In practical terms, this means providing clients with innovative and strategic planning while providing clear direction to our media owners.
In 2020, we found it absolutely necessary to keep our clients informed through all the unknowns. We needed to anticipate and navigate the unknown through data-driven, logical and optimistic decision-making. And nobody can do that alone. It took all parties - advertisers, agencies, media owners and trade organizations - to stand together and figure things out in real-time. To survive, improve and thrive, we had to come together.
So how did we do this? We did it by being problem-solving partners. We identified the issues. We identified the challenges, possible outcomes and communicated scenarios and potential solutions. We used in-house data research and methodology to understand why, how and where best to communicate with our audiences — for example, how traffic patterns changed based on the new work models, or what media formats were gaining exposure based on cities closing down and at what point in their day they were most likely to be interested in our clients’ messaging.
But we didn’t just rely on data. We used the information available to us via our sciences team and combined it with our media expertise to better inform our approaches, revisions and plans, allowing us to fully understand the adjustments needed to overcome each challenge. We made education more personal by taking our team's thoughts and perspective into account to create an approach that worked for everyone — OOH industry experts, clients and audiences alike.
Out-of-home thrives on relationships. That’s why many of us took our career journey to the OOH space in the first place. We are only as good as our people — and our people are strategists, marketers, buyers, producers and scientists; some of the best and brightest in the business. The relationships between media, sciences and creatives in our industry are what gives OOH its unique edge in the advertising landscape.
But people can’t do it alone. Behind every great brainstorm, strategic plan and spirited team, there’s equally fascinating technology. It’s a symbiotic relationship: Humans do what machines can’t, and machines do what we’re not so good at. Neither succeeds without the other.
This element of OOH is perhaps best summed up by Joe Strummer's famous words: “Without people, you’re nothing.”
While not exclusive to OOH, the importance of client service cannot be overestimated. It has always been critical, but it’s even more relevant in a time of uncertainty. As the world shut down, clients needed to change the way they did business. Brands and agencies had to change courses, objectives and goals to survive in the ever-changing landscape. And, like the OOH industry itself, they found that trust, honesty and thoughtfulness were the formula to get us all through.
For instance, our client Spectrum had a sizable campaign posted during the height of the pandemic. We not only saw them through the uncertainty to deliver the campaign — we made up for any lost impressions. We extended their reach and brought tremendous value to their efforts, all because we were able to quantify the audience, measure the impressions and see traffic in near real-time across all of their units. In the end, we far exceeded our purchased amounts.
Without our research and honesty, Spectrum could have significantly reduced their OOH spend — and that would have been understandable. Instead, we were able to walk them through the statistics and allow them to reap the rewards. Smart and steady won the day.
Justification and Accountability
In OOH, it isn’t enough to say “we did it.” We need to justify why and how we made our decisions, explaining how each piece fits into the overall objectives and the goals.
Data will clearly help us here, and we have it. In fact, we have so much at our disposal that we should be using it at every turn. The more we share, the stronger our plans will be. The stronger our plans are, the better our programs will be. The better our programs will be, the more we will be able to prove our programs worked. And that will lead to repeat programs, retention and success.
That’s why so much value is placed on the Billups in-house data science team. They are vital in ensuring our plans are extremely well thought-out, justifiable and downright smart. By harnessing their expertise combined with our understanding of the medium as well as our media partners’ insights, we get the most grounded and thorough lens of our audience and placements.
Now, we’re all gunning for the same goal. It isn’t about the myriad of ways we retrieve and use the data — it’s about how we as an industry come together and take ownership.
Trust and Transparency
The pandemic brought a range of challenges and changes, none of which can be swept under the rug. We found that being open and honest was — and is — the best way to hit problems head-on. The drops in traffic, reduced ridership and changes in audience movement were real and prominently called out in the media as well as within the OOH industry. We had to acknowledge that what we planned may not be the best path forward.
But we didn’t give up — we readjusted. We moved buys, changed geography, adjusted formats and made up for lost impressions all while making sure clients knew we had their best intentions in mind. The Billups COVID tracker measured audiences to see variances from when we purchased impressions to ultimately what we were receiving. Meanwhile, media companies did a great job of recognizing what was happening and adjusted contracts, extended campaigns or allowed advertisers to move, which created trust and partnership. Together, we brought calm to the industry.
What we can’t do is look to raise prices now as traffic increases and demand gets stronger. We must not go back to where we were. That’s not how we build confidence or trust — and it certainly isn’t how to grow OOH’s share of the media pie.
At the end of the day, combining education, relationships, client service, accountability and trust allowed our clients to feel good about their investments and our partnership. Perhaps most importantly, they felt good about the OOH industry as a whole.
As we look through the front windshield, we see increased traffic. We also see more people moving about. But best of all, we see optimism.