Tim Bleakley Sees Accountability and Integrated Tech Challenge for DOOH

Rapport sat down with Ocean Outdoor’s CEO, Tim Bleakley, to discuss everything from the growth of digital within the OOH spectrum, to his preferred pastime.

Q. Do you feel traditional out-of-home has suffered in the shadow of growing mobile and digital investment?

Everybody hates the word ‘traditional’ these days – it’s either ‘classic’ or ‘heritage’ depending on who you talk to. I don’t necessarily think that traditional formats have suffered, but I guess it depends from which way you see things. 

If you asked whether traditional formats could be performing better and using the halo effect from what has happened with digital and interactivity, then I would argue that they could indeed be performing better. 

However, if you’d asked the question, What would have happened if digital, interactivity and mobile weren’t introduced to the medium?, you could argue that traditional out-of-home has been protected by the innovation and investment in digital, in a way that hasn’t happened in other print-based mediums. 

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

I would love to change econometric modelling, because this has been impossible to change over the past 4-5 years, and it has been a very important area for the medium, particularly when we talk about its effectiveness and return on investment.

I think that the medium has been unfairly penalised by the majority of the econometric models out there, which by their very nature, are somewhat biased towards TV. If everyone began with a blank sheet of paper right now, the components of these models would be very different to what they are now.  

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

There are some things that are really important within Ocean’s culture. One of these is that the best argument should win the day. This is critical to the creativity and innovation of any company.

Ocean tries to allow everybody to have their say and put ideas forward. We don’t have endless chains of hierarchy; everything is relatively flat, flexible and accessible. 

Q. Are you finding that brands are harnessing the benefits of the interactive digital platforms available to them? Are they seeing the results they were hoping for?

If you were to ask if anyone is harnessing the benefits of interactive digital platforms, but with scale, I’d have to say I’m not sure they are. A lot of the great examples for interactive large format activations we’ve seen haven’t necessarily been spectacular in terms of scale. This is mainly because scale isn’t what these companies are attempting to achieve with these particular campaigns, but rather they are opportunities to experiment with interactivity and innovation to provide their brands or campaigns with some real glow.

I think that all the media owners that have invested in digital have great examples of this. Getting people to not only stop and take notice of your brand, but also engaging with it, is worth its weight in gold. 

Q. Ocean are one of the few companies in the out-of-home world that actively seeks to better understand the true impact of the medium, through non-traditional research. Where do you feel the real competitive advantage lies with investing in Neuroscience Research, for example? How does this set you aside from others?

We’re really proud with what we have done on the Neuroscience Research, and soon we will be launching Neuroscience 2, which we’re even more excited about. As a company that is big on brand and quality, measurement was of key importance and one of the central reasons for us getting involved in this field of research. 

The first stage of our Neuroscience Research was picked up in over 250 countries worldwide, and the key reason it has been so popular is that it finds a new way of articulating something that people instinctively feel is right. Neuroscience 2 takes everything one step further by monitoring the brain’s activity and the effect that digital has on these audiences. The findings are hugely in favour of digital out-of-home and this is fantastic news for the medium. 

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

Everyone is talking about programmatic, but it’s crucial to firstly understand what it actually is. Programmatic is built on the basis of an ‘infinite supply’ in some shape or form. Both digital and traditional out-of-home’s supply is in fact not infinite, but rather quite finite.

There are a myriad of things wrapped up in what anybody may define programmatic as being. From Ocean’s perspective, our infrastructure and some of the things we do that involves programmatic are already built in-house. The challenge for us is scaling this and transferring that technology across multiple locations. This then represents further challenges as every Ocean location is different! 

We would approach programmatic by fully embracing the remote deliver and trigger of ad content based on relevant data points and reasons that are dynamic to deliver that particular copy. Also, we would embrace where efficiencies are removed from the chain, perhaps by removing the option book process and integrate it with the sales force we operate at present. This would remove six or seven man hours either side of the fence, and drive cost efficiency and margins for the business. In my opinion, this is something that is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality.

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

Route has been a big improvement on what we had previously. Where it has been slightly disappointing, from an industry point-of-view, is that it hasn’t been adopted as quickly as it could have been. Sky are a shining example of raising the bar and trying to do things differently, but I think there needs to be a lot more examples of this. 

There are winners and losers in any change of research methodology; this is just how things are. Trying to keep everyone happy has been one of the things that has held Route back. I’d like to see it being more openly marketed as part of the industry lexicon. 

Q. Do you feel Digital OOH will be stronger if it was to separate from the current outdoor structure? (i.e. be considered more with other screen media such as cinema/mobile with its own trade body and audience analysis)?

Putting aside where it sits, I strongly believe it should be allowed to evolve unencumbered. If it’s going to exist within out-of-home, that’s fine, but it still has to be allowed to grow without any obstacles impeding its natural growth. 

It’s not about being separated, it’s about how its treated and operated, so my recommendation to all media owners is to let it grow organically. 

Q. What challenges has digital out-of-home yet to overcome?

Industry-wide accountability is a significant challenge. I’m a great observer of what other people are up to, and I can see that everybody is becoming a lot stronger at accountability. 

Integrated technology at scale is another challenge. There is quite a lot more commonality across the media owners than people might realise, particularly when you consider where the outdoor hardware originates from. However, the back end systems that operate and connect back to agencies are all varied and different. So for me, integrated tech that connects and allows things to happen at scale is therefore a key challenge that we must overcome. 

Finally, I think there needs to be an obsession with new revenue sources. It’s something we do obsess about here at Ocean. If we develop a new location, screen or network, we want to understand where that revenue will come from. Rather than sitting back and looking at their size of the pie, everyone should be collectively obsessed with understanding where the new business is coming from. If everyone did this, the pie would be bigger; it’s as simple as that. 

Fact File

Q. Give us a little background introduction to your personal life. Are you married? Do you have kids at all?

Family life: Married with three teenage children.

Favourite holiday destination: It’s a toss up between two! Either Durrus in County Cork or San Florent in Corsica.

Hobbies: My only hobby would be watching my children either playing sport or any other activity. If I’m not watching them, I like to watch Manchester United or go skiing. 

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

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