As we near the end of 2020 it is easy to reflect on the year through the narrow lens of the Covid pandemic but should this be how we view the immediate past and future? In fact, many councils we work with are also looking at the medium to long-term future, specifically in terms of how they can maintain the ongoing improvement of the services they deliver and modernise the environment in which they operate.
One key element of this environmental modernisation agenda, in many cases, is a council’s outdoor media strategy. In some areas, there may be a number of different schemes in operation, involving large-format outdoor media sites (including digital), as well as smaller-scale, traditional sites (including roundabouts, lamppost banners and boundary signs), but invariably being managed completely separately (or not being managed at all).
In some cases, there may be little or no formal offering in either regard (and certainly not managed by the Council), yet it is likely that there will be some presence of local advertising (think fly-posting and banners on railings).
So, what should councils be thinking about in terms of their outdoor media strategy? And is it even relevant to consider outdoor media strategies when councils are facing one of their toughest ever periods, dealing with the ongoing constraints of ever-tightening budgets set against a back-drop of increased costs emanating from the current global pandemic?
If we briefly look back at 2020 in terms of the outdoor media industry, it does not make good reading. Almost across the board in the UK (and the rest of the world), there has been an enormous decline in revenues – pushing beyond 50%-60% in some quarters. Yes, there has been some resurgence in the last few months, prior to lockdown #2, but still nowhere near to making up for the previous losses, let alone allowing strategists to confirm which course to follow next.
Yet there is hope and optimism in some areas. At CP Media, we set our course before lockdown #1 even ended. We invested in our marketing and sales operations, whilst providing local businesses with a clear vision and value for money when considering their next moves in local advertising.
Despite our belief and hard work, the resulting increase in sales post-lockdown has still been surprising, and even overwhelming when compared to other areas in the industry, which face job cuts and a withdrawal of investment at a critical point.
So where does this leave councils? What should they be thinking about when considering the future of their outdoor media provision?
Firstly, we recommend quickly assessing and evaluating your current provision. It is likely that many of the larger-format and digital sites, which are controlled by a few key industry players, will have to wait until global revenues recover (as will councils which are reliant on their share).
In the meantime, there could be work that councils can do themselves to generate revenue themselves. This could mean seeking third-party help to refresh current in-house schemes for roundabouts and lamppost banner sponsorship, or for implementing new schemes where they don’t currently exist.
But councils should not necessarily stop there – instead, we ask you to think about what you want your advertising landscape to look like in the future. It is possible that you might want to envision a more interactive digital provision, controlled more by the Council to allow real-time messaging to residents and businesses, whilst benefitting from the flexibility and opportunities to generate money from digital advertising? Or do you just want to maximise revenue from current assets which are dwindling in revenue?
Wherever you are on the spectrum, we believe now would be a good time to think about how you can generate more revenue and set in motion a future vision for your council area. The ‘new normal’ does not have to mean lower revenues for the foreseeable future – just ask the councils we work with.