JCDecaux’s Spencer Berwin Praises Out-of-Home’s Committed Players

Rapport sat down with JCDecaux’s Managing Director of Sales, Spencer Berwin, to discuss everything from the rise of programmatic buying, to his most preferred hobbies. 

During your long tenure at JCDecaux, do you feel traditional Out-of-Home has suffered in the shadow of growing mobile and digital investment? 

The first thing is let’s not call it traditional, let’s call it Classic. Traditional sounds old, it sounds dull and there’s just no spark to it, which isn’t the case with this powerful Out-of-Home channel! Digital is certainly exciting despite still being in its infancy, but Classic is really what Out-of-Home is still all about. Perhaps we haven’t amplified enough the positives of Classic Out-of-Home in everything that we have been doing of late. Outdoor is still the medium of big numbers, big cover, big frequency and frankly, big impact. We need to bring Out-of-Home back to basics; it’s a broadcast channel, and when combined with TV, provides the perfect media combination with complimentary audience peaks and geographic reach for example in London where TV is weak and Out-of-Home is strong.

Let’s not forget that brands need ‘big’ media. They all crave fame. Trying to push a brand and make it stand out on a mobile device is at best, tricky. You may get some interesting statistics, you might make it sparkle a little, and you even might be able to search for it, but in order to do this you’ve got to know about it and Out-of-Home is brilliant at doing that. So, in short, I would say Classic Out-of-Home has not suffered at all. It is still the medium of big Numbers, big reach, big cover, big frequency, it’s not tune-out-able, it’s all above the fold and we have zero bots.

If you could promptly change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

The one thing I would change is the use of the word ‘partnership’. Everybody loves using it and maybe it’s being slightly overused right now. Let’s just talk about doing great business and great advertising, and how we can give brands fame. I’m not sure people necessarily understand what a partnership truly means, and often, it can be confused with just simply doing good work. 

At JCDecaux we love ‘collaboration’. We do our best work when we have the opportunity to work closely with people. In terms of our industry specifically, the one thing we would like to see on the sell-side is Outdoor companies being less short-termist, and the buy-side to recognise more the value that long-term players bring to the sector. In our experience, the clients we like doing business with are those who are in it for the long-haul, totally committed and share each other’s values.

One of JCDecaux’s core values is about being highly innovative, especially when it comes to delivering high-quality advertising solutions. How do you ensure that the company culture and its activities are aligned with these core values?

You’re absolutely right, innovation and quality is at the core of what we at JCDecaux do. We’ve just celebrated our 50th anniversary, which on a global scale, not only makes us the largest business in Out-of-Home but also the most successful by some considerable distance. ‘Passion and Innovation’ is the DNA that runs through JCDecaux from top to bottom. Having a presence in 75 countries around the world makes it incredibly important we communicate and share best practice across international markets. As a large organisation we are nimble and quick to react, which I feel helps us stand out from our competitors both on a local, multi-market and global level.

The general consensus is that there is a synergy between out-of-home and mobile. Are you looking to commercialise mobile as a possible revenue stream, and if so, how do you see JCDecaux doing this?

We see mobile as a bit of a red herring in this regard. Having said that, we recently announced an agreement with Vodafone for small cell deployment, which probably best represents how we may intend to commercialise mobile in the immediate future, but this is probably not what you meant by your question. We as individual consumers own our mobile technology, and how we work with these pieces of equipment is down to us individually. The notion of people interacting with a bus shelter using their NFC-equipped mobile phone is probably a wish too far, and I think NFC in the Out-of-Home context is quite possibly a busted flush. We are concentrating on the next generation of wearables and beacons for example.

 JCDecaux has seen extensive investment in super premium digital sites, and their recent domination at the DOOH has set the bar high for other media owners. How do you intend to maintain this position within the digital spectrum?

What’s interesting is that digital Out-of-Home in the UK is at an astonishingly high level of development. There isn’t really any other market in the world that is as digital as it is in the UK, and the good news for us is that JCDecaux have the largest share. It could be said the UK is viewed as the Silicon Valley of the medium, which means everything we do here at JCDecaux UK is seen to be hugely significant and a reference point for the rest of the world.

It’s not just about placing an ad on a digital screen on a loop for a fortnight; it’s also about doing smart things like using data. Let me give you an example. When we launched SmartScreen across four hundred Tesco stores in the UK, we set the bar a little bit higher by fusing digital screens and sales and consumer data together for optimised client campaigns at the point-of-sale. As a market and as a business, it will be tough to maintain this level, but at the same time we also feel the peak has yet to be reached. 

Is JCDecaux’s infrastructure able to deal with the introduction of automated or programmatic buying? What are your views on embracing this?

If you put a hundred people in a room and ask them what they think programmatic means, you’re likely to get a hundred different answers! Broadly speaking, it’s about data-enabling ad-serving and simply making it easier to transact. I think the concept we created and successfully launched in April last year (Tesco SmartScreen) is a good place to start, so we are indeed embracing programmatic in a very plausible future facing way.

What are you feelings towards Route and the possibility of audience trading moving forward?

Route is the world’s largest and most sophisticated audience measurement system – and we are delighted and proud to be a major part of it. We now have every element and environment in Out-of-Home analysed and available for clients. As a founder member of Route, we have always believed in it and continue to support its growth and evolution. For us, Route will be the cornerstone of everything that we do in terms of communicating and selling our proposition to the marketplace – so watch this space in 2015. 

What challenges has out-of-home yet to overcome?

The key challenge really lies in overcoming the conundrum of panels versus people. The medium is currently planned, bought and sold in an obsolete way – ‘panels’ being the metric. Clients don’t want to know how many panels they are getting, they want to know how many people they are reaching, specifically who they are reaching, and understanding how these people behave. The good news is that this is all possible now, so we should be able to give the client what they ultimately want. This is our key driver in 2015 and beyond.

Finally, what is your vision for JCDecaux and the wider industry within the next 5 years? Where do you feel the most significant growth will occur?

Our early results on Tesco tell us that we have more advertisers than we had in the ‘old world’ of selling Classic 6-sheets. In other words, clients are spending more money because, simply put, they love the accountability and the fact that their campaigns are being optimised. As the market leader, it’s expected of us to make bold moves forward. It’s a huge opportunity. As far as our vision is concerned, we want to build on that as rapidly as we can.

Fact File

Family life: Married with three sons – my eldest is 26, followed by middle boy who is 22. They’re both working and doing really well. My youngest is 18 and is coming up to finishing his A-levels.

Hobbies: I’m a rubbish golfer! I don’t get anywhere near enough time to play, and perhaps I could say I took it up sadly too late in life. But it’s easy to lose yourself in the game, especially when the weather is favourable!

Alternative career path: You know there really isn’t anything I’d love to do more than what I am currently doing now. I’ve been in Out-of-Home almost all of my working life and I love the medium. I’m past the age where I’m able to think what if?” This is what I do, and I’ll be doing it for as long as JCDecaux want me.

Favourite holiday destination: I’ve had some great holidays in the USA, including some fantastic road trips! But I’d have to say Mallorca is my regular favourite. It’s only two and a half hours away, and there are some fantastic parts of the island to visit.

We would like to thank Spencer and his team for their time. We wish him all the best for 2015 and beyond at JCDecaux.

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