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OOH players chalk out COVID revival plan

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While the revival for Outdoor could take anything from six to nine months, industry experts remain undeterred as they gear up for what they expect to be the sector’s strongest comeback

With the whole world reeling from the major upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, almost the entire M&E industry has taken a hit. While different sectors have seen varying degrees of impact, the OOH industry has arguably been the worst hit. Even during normal times, only 40%-45% of the sites are occupied, with the situation deteriorating to the extent that some OOH companies have had to lay off as much as 30% of their staff. With very limited options to stay afloat in such testing times, most OOH players have now sought relief packages from the Government and other civic authorities, who at the time provided the GST Postponement, but at an interest of 9%, with other loans also required to be repaid with full interest.

The situation may be grim but the OOH industry is no longer focused on the damage the pandemic has caused but rather on gearing up for what industry players believe will be a strong comeback. Even with the doom and gloom of license fees, in the month of June, OOH owners received some positive reinforcements, which are expected to boost the industry’s revival.

The Eastern Railway has stated that the lockdown period will be considered as a natural calamity, whereas the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has issued a verdict that OOH owners can now take down COVID-19-related messaging. Moreover, the Bombay High Court ruled that the BMC should waiver the licence fee for the months of April and May to the eight OOH owners who had approached them.

THE OWNER’S PLIGHT

While there has been some respite from the authorities, most advertisers are hesitant to use the medium, unlike sectors like FMCG that have perhaps been the most active during this time. Most industry players though are confident that Diwali and the upcoming festive season might be the amelioration of the sector, albeit their estimates indicate it will be only 60-70% lit, as compared with Diwali last year. The overall revival of the OOH industry should take about 6-9 months, with airline and airport media set to bounce back into action by October, when about 50% of flights will resume. Under all these circumstances, some players still believe that the OOH medium will be the first one to come back and attract advertisers even more than before, once the cities start opening up.

Zero billings for the OOH sector mean that there has been no income for three months as of now. Employees working in the industry have had to bite the bullet and settle for salary rationalization. Speaking of the adjustments made by the company’s employees, Noomi Mehta, CEO, Selvel Advertising said, “Our wonderful staff independently made all the alterations, knowing the need of the hour. We have put in as much of personal funds as possible and are on a collection mission. This is difficult since our debtors too have the same problem as us.”

With mall excursions, cinemas, travel, hospitality, etc. reducing dramatically, the mom-and-pop stores will thrive and OOH will need to adapt with quicker research and measurement to speed up the process.

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OOH OWNERS: PAVING THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

OOH owners have been burning the midnight lamp in their effort to minimize the damage the past few months have caused. In addition to petitioning the government and other civic authorities for certain relaxations, they have been begun to put into motion strategies that will restore some degree of normalcy and aid in the sector’s overall recovery.

Some OOH owners have already started to action their plan to do more than just staying afloat at this time. The Vritti Group, with its focus on rural markets, has put its activation business to use by coming up with a sales model for brands through activation in certain green zones by physically going to societies, Resident Welfare Associations and doing other sales-related work. “We have come up with an immunity booster model for brand Dabur’s Honey and Chyavanprash products because certain products are a need of the hour. Consumers could not reach the point of purchase or even the retail, so we went to societies and created a sales model. We try to keep ourselves alive through all these work-around models,” said Rajesh Radhakrishnan, EVP & CEO, Vritti iMedia. The group also has an ITM software which focusses on digital marketing aggressively through its digital team and does a lot of integration, with a focus on certain areas which have helped the business sail through. The company also launched an e-commerce app, as an IT initiative to help point-of-purchase in rural India. Radhakrishna is of the view that the industry must focus more on rural brands, going ahead, since they are the ones who still rely more on traditional advertising.

Without debate, the outdoor platform has always been regarded as one of the rawest and key forms of BTL advertising. Making itself a cost-effective medium from all angles and identifying the right people to pitch for businesses can help the sector prove its effectiveness better, before bidding for new tenders. “Reasonable rates will attract maximum clients to use the media. When clients get a good response at a minimum cost, they will definitely be regular and their competitors are also likely to use the same media,” said Mukesh Gupta, Chairman & Managing Director, Graphisads Pvt. Ltd.

Even with limited options of bouncing back to normalcy, some owners have not failed to prove that their humanitarian spirit goes way beyond their business orientations. The Capital Group is running an optimistic and engaging campaign to keep its audience informed about being responsible, while they also strive to get back to uplifting the economy. Speaking on the initiative, Santosh Smith, COO, Capital Group said, “The creditors have to act responsibly as well, to save the industry which has been instrumental in giving one of the most effective platforms for them to flourish and grow.”  He believes that impactful innovation on the larger than life visual message will always get the audience to talk about the brands and adopt it, basis the strength of their messaging. “Smart campaign planning along with creative execution through customized treatment on various formats of OOH will be the way forward,” he added.

Consumers have already started to feel the need to move out and socialize, although restrictions still prevail. Brands alike, are hoping to get more recall and sales once situations start to normalize and people start to move out. Playing on the advantage the period of social distancing has to offer, the Century Group of Companies is planning to increase its digital screens. “We have come up with discounted packages for brands to be present in the outdoor space even at this hour. We look forward to serving more brands at better prices,” said Shashi Kumar Chaudhary, Director/Partner, Century Group of Companies, who is certain that the industry operating in the oldest form of marketing, might revive sooner or later with a greater boom.

Education and health care sectors will be likely to advertise more on the medium, since they have moved to the online formats and will need more eyeballs in order to get their target consumers to migrate to the digital medium.

Airport and airline advertising is another area that has been majorly impacted in the lockdown. Some flights have started to resume and so a few advertisers are coming back to the medium. Atin Gupta, CEO, Atin OOH states that the company is primarily focusing on engaging each client by providing them with detailed and honest information to help them arrive at an informed decision about the media. It also adjusted its pricing in line with the new traffic figures and are even offering the support of additional media to retain its clients. Among the advertisers that will come back quickly to the medium, Gupta believes that brands in categories like e-commerce, FMCG, pharma, insurance and tourism will be instrumental in driving the resurgence for the industry. “The revival of the entire OOH industry will be a slow, agonizing process which will take 6-9 months, as clients will be wary and careful while spending. We will have to be honest and provide value and innovations to bring them back,” he observes.

Apart from business-related solutions and strategies, in order to kickstart the comeback plan, outdoor media owners and agencies are in much need of government aid, including the full payment of the outstanding that they are yet to receive from the DAVP and several other government departments. The government is a natural catalyst which can help use its resources to help the industry move and grow. “The government should advise all the departments, PSUs and autonomous bodies to start advertising through Outdoor media. We don’t say they should use outdoor media just to help us but to also look into the effectiveness and cost efficiency, which is the best in comparison to any other medium”, Gupta of Graphisads points out, adding that the government and other civic authorities should also allow revenue sharing for at least six months till the situation sees complete normalcy.

However, receiving assistance from the authorities will be a long-haul flight to fight, since the OOH industry involves multiple authorities, including landlords and principals. “The only strategy for media owners could be to have confidence and not get carried away, since this is the only medium which will come back faster than any other medium and works very well for brands,” Pramod Bhandula, Executive Chairman, JCDecaux notes.

With the revival of economy, corporate advertisers will increase spends in Outdoor media, since they have to bring back their customers. Once the corporates start advertising, there will be some recovery in the business. “Even Facebook acknowledges that a Digital and OOH combination increases client site visits by 60% or more. It has to be new wave OOH and we will have to wave goodbye to the old style of OOH business,” adds Mehta of Selvel One. In the post-lockdown environment, investing in DOOH and PDOOH (Programmatic Digital OOH) inventories will be imperative. These digital solutions will be paramount and will help provide brands with a data-driven platform, blended with a customized OOH creative. A new business environment also calls for a new modus operandi. This is why lift branding and hyperlocal content will take centre stage in the post-lockdown world.

OOH AGENCIES: DATA AND TECHNOLOGY TO DRIVE INDUSTRY RESURGENCE

From ‘welcome back’ messaging to immersive and contextual messaging, brands will use every possible element of location plus audience, to make the best use of the medium post lockdown. This means Digital OOH will be key, as will data and contextual messaging. Despite the odds and challenges, the sentiment across the industry is one of anticipation and hope that the months ahead will definitely pave the way for an OOH renaissance of sorts.

Illustrating how the industry can get back on its feet, Ajay Mehta, Managing Director, Cinema (ITV), and OOH (Kinetic) says that brands will want to use a data-driven and technology-enabled approach which will help gather insights on consumers and create a customized, but impactful communication for the OOH medium. He believes this will mean a quicker transition for the medium. Sharing his strategy, Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Madison Media & OOH, Madison World in the absence of monitoring data is resorting to pick up data from their buyer network across regions. Sakhuja adds, “Apart from new brand news, OOH can play the important role of giving reassurance of hygiene and safety messages that brands are following.”

The usage of bus shelters, OOH furniture, lift branding, display uni polls at malls, and office complexes will become more relevant than before. Gour Gupta, CEO, The Max, and MD, Tribes Group remarks, “Some of our clients are already toying with innovative ideas around street furniture and branding to land unconventional messages.” Due to the lockdown, people were exposed to repetitive content on either TV, Print, or Digital. Now, people will want to relive the normal life, which we are already seeing since Unlock 1.0. Brands and agencies would do well to bear in mind context and relevant content when devising strategies for OOH. Sujit Banerjee, Director & CEO, Ecosys, a specialist OOH agency of the Publicis Media Groupe elaborates, “Due to the change of consumer behaviour and shift in their buying patterns, context and content will play the main role via touchpoints to connect with the audience leading to a sales conversion.”

That DOOH players will have the upper hand during this post-lockdown phase is a given. However, the content brands create must be aligned also will the rapidly changing consumer sentiments. Haresh Nayak, Group MD, Posterscope South Asia & President, Posterscope APAC believes that optimization will drive everything, right from media to planning to content and creativity. He shares, “Content needs to be aligned as per the evolving consumer sentiments, while creativity has to surpass the previous benchmarks, for a campaign to be titled impactful.” DOOH players already have a head start in terms of technology. However, weaving their digital solutions with creativity will be the holy grail that will actually make an impact. Gulab Patil, Founder, and CEO Lemma adds, “Brands would expect DOOH to mirror creative flexibility and content intelligence exhibited by other digital mediums, where ads can be triggered to suit the audience, context, and the time-bands.” Srikanth Ramachandran, Group CEO of Moving Walls also points out that mobile retargeting of audiences exposed to outdoor campaigns will gain traction.

CHARTING THE REVIVAL COURSE WITH DOOH AND PDOOH

Kinetic has already collaborated with Xaxis, the programmatic company of GroupM. This will allow the company to create outcome-driven solutions for their clients. “Our aim is to use digital metrics to deliver outcomes that clients will value”, Mehta of Kinetic remarked. Tribes Group too is in talks with three large brands for geo-tagged DOOH campaigns serving hyper-contextual messages to users in the vicinity of OOH sites. It is clear that DOOH and PDOOH will shoot to prominence in the post-lockdown phase for the industry.

Posterscope’s real-time OOH (ROOH) online dashboard module ‘Armor’ will play an extremely important role and offers automation, scale, and measurability. “We are now going to talk and reach out to our audiences in the best optimal way. The culmination of various other data points will only help us provide accurate data, not only in terms of campaign planning but also in terms of campaign results,” Posterscope’s Nayak explains.

One of the main disadvantages was the medium’s inability to arrive at a credible measurement.  However, DOOH has helped justify client spends, pointing the arrow toward the right direction. This is something that will become even more critical even as marketing budgets shrink and ROI becomes critical. Mandeep Malhotra, Founding Partner & CEO, The Social Street explains, “We still have some distance to cover as the current supply is more in small formats and largely indoors. We are also working on a robust DOOH offering for our clients. Data is a wonderful tool and it’s up to us all to sharpen to use more effectively.”

THE DOOH PLAY ALONGSIDE NEW AGE MEDIA

 Lemma recently partnered with LifeSight and a few others to further strengthen its measurement capabilities and drive synergy between mobile and DOOH. “In addition to this, we launched ‘Falcon’, an AI-enabled planning tool that maps the hourly audience density to the screens, delivering accurate plans to maximize relevant audience reach,” Patil of Lemma adds.

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