Justin Cochrane Sees Bright Future Ahead for Clear Channel

Rapport sat down with Clear Channels CEO, Justin Cochrane, to discuss everything from future media developments, to his love of sport.

You have been at the helm of Clear Channel for around 6 months now. How has it been so far?

It’s been great fun. I’ve been at Clear Channel for 14 years, so I know the business very well. I’ve been in the UK business for around 4 years, as the company’s CFO and COO. When I returned to the UK business after a stint as European COO, it felt like I was coming home! There have certainly been some challenges since then, but I’m ready to get stuck in and help Clear Channel overcome these.

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

I would make it easier for all the media owners to work together, because I think that this is what holds the industry back most. It’s a very competitive environment so to be able to do this would be very difficult, but I think what holds out-of-home back most compared to some industries is a little bit of fragmentation with how everybody behaves and deals with our customers.

One of Clear Channel’s core values is centred on building strong relationships with advertisers. How do you ensure that the company culture and its activities are aligned with this and other core company values? 

I think that the thing I hear most about Clear Channel externally is that we’re very nice, – some people could see that as a backhanded compliment but I’d like to take it as a genuine compliment because one of the values I’m determined to keep at Clear Channel is that our people are really great to work with.

Everyone ultimately wants to work with people that are fun to be around, without sacrificing the ability to do their jobs well. As a core value, it’s a fundamentally positive thing to have resonating throughout the company.

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

Everyone in the out-of-home industry will say that there is a synergy that exists between the medium and mobile, but nobody has really cracked it yet. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the relationship between being in the outdoor space and seeing something you like, connecting to it with your device, and engaging with it.

What role will your previous financial background play in shaping your plans for Clear Channel’s future direction?

It’s vital for a CEO to understand how a company works from a financial perspective, for example profit and loss or economic growth, because if we have to be honest, every company wants to know how they perform and benchmark in the overall picture.

I’d love to be a part of something memorable, which leaves a lasting legacy at Clear Channel. So to firstly understand the mechanics of the business is fundamentally important to the overall success in the future.

That doesn’t mean I’m intending to focus all my attention on this approach. I’d like to take an open-minded view of things to determine what the future holds and what changes will ultimately lead to the brightest future.

Storm launched to provide brands with complete buying flexibility. Are you finding that brands are harnessing the flexible benefits of digital OOH?

 

Brands are certainly starting to see the results. Back in 2013 when Storm launched, it was a pretty brave thing to move into. We did some things right, we did some things wrong. We probably left it slightly too open for brands to have complete flexibility.

We’ve got to remember that digital out-of-home made up 30% of overall out-of-home advertising last year, so if you don’t make it really easy to buy it, it becomes increasingly harder to sell. Launching Storm was certainly disruptive when it moved away from the traditional two-week in-charge period. When you try something new there will inevitably be some challenges but Storm is really gaining momentum with the launch of some fantastic sites both in London and nationwide.

Clearly the loss of the TfL contract is a huge blow for Clear Channel; how are you looking to strengthen your London position after this development?

It’s obviously a big one. We’ve been quite public about our disappointment at losing the contract, but also very pragmatic – you have to be commercially astute about these things after all. We pushed negotiations right to very limit.

We are more emotionally affected by the loss, than we are economically affected. From an emotional standpoint, London Adshel has been at the core of the Clear Channel business for many years so I’m emotionally disappointed. Commercially, I’m more comfortable having lost the contract than I would be if we had won it at too high a price.

There is a confusion surrounding the ownership of London bus shelters, so it’s important to remember that many boroughs in London have their own separate contracts. TfL don’t own every single bus shelter in the capital. We’ll still end up being the number one provider of 6 sheets across the UK, and we have great plans in place to get ourselves back to being bigger in London.

 

There’s nothing that can be done in 24 hours where we can say look, here’s 10,000 extra panels for London overnight – developments like this just don’t exist. There will be contract negotiations coming up across all the large local authorities as well as other new opportunities, so we will gradually strengthen our position in London once again.

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

This is something that is almost certainly going to happen over the next few years. A lot of companies last year were talking about programmatic in out-of-home, but that really is trying to run before you can walk! Automated trading will be the first steps, and we’ve already carried out some trials in several different countries.

This goes back to the point I made earlier about the need for greater collaboration within the industry. One of the steps to achieving this is developing a common currency or some basic parameters, which in turn makes it easier to buy across the sector.

Route was meant to herald a new dawn. What are you feelings towards Route and the possibility of audience trading moving forward?

It’s got far more potential than it’s already achieved so far. Moving forward it will have to take on board other data sources, for example mobile data.

As it stands though, Route is an extremely powerful tool, but as an industry, I don’t think we’ve made the most of it. If we can mine that rich source of data that we already have and market it better, we’re probably more likely to see it reaching its full potential.

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

Naturally, the industry will always be grappling with a number of challenges. For me however, the greatest challenge out-of-home is current facing is how easy it is to buy. The easier you are to buy as a medium, the greater the benefits in the long-term.

Sometimes there can be too much conflict within the industry over this subject, especially when we see media owners bombarding the market with numerous format launches. Rather than taking this product-led approach, we need to begin focusing on our audiences.

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

There will be a huge amount of change over the next few years. With so much happening it’s vital that we stay firmly focussed on changing consumer behaviour and really listen to what advertisers need from us.

At Clear Channel we have two major brands – Adshel and Storm. We expect both to grow well over the next 5 years as we roll-out our Digital Adshel Live offering to hundreds of locations right across the country and continue to invest in Storm.

If you look at what has happened in out-of-home over the last few years, the speed of digitising the medium has tended to vary by environment. Malls and rail stations have seen a far greater proportion of this because it is cheaper to transform to digital. We expect to be at the forefront of driving what happens in the roadside market as it moves towards digital.

Fact File

Family life: I’m not married, but I’ve been with my partner, Sharon, for 8 years now.

Hobbies: I love sport, but I don’t get a lot of time to do any these days. I do some kayaking and sailing when I head back home to Ireland, which is where my family is from.

Alternative career path: If I had the right discipline, I would have definitely gone into sport. I used to do a lot of rowing during my time at Oxford, so it would have been amazing to have done that!

Favourite holiday destination: I’ve got two favourites! Anywhere I can ski is a particular favourite, so France, Switzerland or Austria is always great. I also love going to New York for a week or so.

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

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