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There will be a bloodbath in outdoor media cost negotiations if lockdown extends further, say OOH experts

OOH industry heads expect slow recovery phase-wise with high hopes on bulk business in the festive season

The Social Street, an integrated ad agency in India, organised a webinar on April 23, discussing ‘The New Normal’ for the OOH industry in the coming time when lockdown ends.

The panel discussion was hosted by Mandeep Malhotra, (Founding Partner, CEO, The Social Street) and featured Noomi Mehta (Chairman, MD, Selvel One Group), Alok Jalan, MD, Laqshya Media Group and Pramod Bandula (Executive Chairman, JCDecaux Advertising India).

Panellists said there will be a bloodbath in outdoor media cost negotiations if the lockdown extends. “If another lockdown happens like the one in Singapore, it will ruin the complete year's business,” said Jalan.

At present, a slow recovery is expected phase by phase by the industry heads with high hopes on bulk business in the festive season.

“It’s very difficult to say whether Q two, three or four is going to give us complete normalcy of business but recovery is going to be in phases,” said Bandula.

“If there are 25% of people on the roads after lockdown, there is a possibility of having 35% of the business. If there are 50%, then the possibility rises to 100% business,” he said.

The panellists said traditional outdoor media format will see quick revival than transit and digital out-of-home as brands would want to showcase big bolt out-of-home quickly to commuters.

“The brand marketers are expected to spend one-third of what they had decided to spend on OOH in 2020,” Malhotra said.

Panellists predicted that the percentage of ad budget print has lost in the lockdown will go to OOH’s share.

“Print commands a share of 25%, even if they lose couple of percentages it will be a good amount of money. It depends on how much print loses and how much we are able to capitalise. We have to be responsive with overall advertisers’ needs and demands,” Jalan said.

Outdoor media owners have to win their clients’ trust with right billboard visibility and sell consumer attention instead of selling spaces.

“If we are not able to offer clients, the audiences, we are not offering them anything at all. We have to win back the trust of the clients. Earlier, we were selling locations but it sadly moved towards selling of space. The discussion now has to change and we now need to start selling consumer attention. We should be able to give right billboard visibility numbers to the clients and prove it. We have to get out of cowboy territory and start working on a scientific model for sales,” said Mehta.

The media owners should also start thinking of becoming innovative and creative with their media. “Space is going to be space but what treatment we give to it that will matter to the client,” Bandula said.

Going forward, in the post-lockdown world, the outdoor industry, especially the media owners, have to think of a business plan with sustainability and durability, where a capital multiplies.

Speaking on funding from investors, Jalan said, “Funding has never been a problem in India; capital will always be available if there is a solid plan of doubling that fund.”

“In India, so far no one was able to create value for any investors that invested in the OOH media industry, which includes Times OOH also, which got funding from Sachs Lehman in 2007,” he said.

The panel talked about the consolidation of small and big media owners’ inventories, which will lessen the clutter created by individual holdings.

The panellists suggested the industry should focus on digitising their assets and de-clutter the skylines across the country.

Less for more works really well, they said. However, it looks like a wet dream due to media owners’ ego issues in collaborating. Skillsets are needed to improve for a post-Covid world.

So far Laqshya Media and JCDecaux have taken a step to cut salaries of their senior-most employees. Selvel One Group is still in the deciding phase of salary cuts and no increments for its employees.

“We are optimistic about the lockdown and the crisis phase will pass sooner than later. As compared to other countries, India's death rate is 5 in 10 million people,” the panellists said.

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