oOh!media's Brendon Cook on the art of reinvention
Brendon Cook has played a leading role in Australia and New Zealand’s Out of Home advertising sector for over 30 years, founding modern-day sector powerhouse oOh!media and driving the industry’s evolution by pioneering new technology. He talked to Sight Lines’ Mark Lane about a culture of innovation that has kept the company at the forefront of the OOH business for three decades.
oOh!media's Brendon Cook on the art of reinvention
Brendon Cook has played a leading role in Australia and New Zealand’s Out of Home advertising sector for over 30 years, founding modern-day sector powerhouse oOh!media and leading the industry’s evolution by pioneering new technology. He talked to Sight Lines’ Mark Lane about a culture of innovation that has kept the company at the forefront of the OOH business for three decades.
A key dynamic of the airport advertising industry landscape is the ability of sector players to constantly innovate and create ground-breaking content, campaigns and ways to attract traveller attention. Such has been the case in the impressive and sustained rise of oOh!media as a standout disruptor in the Australia and New Zealand markets.
Talking to industry veteran Brendon Cook, the company’s founder and CEO, it’s clear that a culture of innovation has kept oOh! as a frontrunner, blazing a trail in the burgeoning Out of Home (OOH) media segment.
Cook highlights some of the firsts achieved by his company. They include screens in airports that travellers could control with their mobile phones (part of a campaign for Google back in 2014); an integrated content and OOH platform with national carrier Qantas, through which club and lounge members controlled the content shown, including FIDS; and, streaming live inflight content from the Lexus Melbourne Cup – the day that all Australia stops.
Today the business has over 850 employees, working out of offices in major cities across Australasia. “We operate in multiple environments, including internally and externally at Australia’s major airports – where we have led massive changes in the past few years – through to billboards, street furniture, shopping centres, gyms, cafés, universities and office towers across Australia and New Zealand.’’
It’s all a far cry from when the firm started out in April 1989 as a small representation business for billboard owners. Cook was the owner, sales representative and traffic manager; “I was also Chief Finance Officer, Head of HR and office cleaner,” he adds only half-jokingly.
“We have a wide range of clients looking to advertise that we don’t see anywhere in the world. It seems to us, that airport sales thinking is very narrow elsewhere.”
oOh!’s airport coverage takes in 18 terminals at airports including Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Gold Coast, Launceston, Melbourne, Sunshine Coast and Sydney. Its airport business, oOh! Fly, has an agreement with Qantas to manage advertising for the airline’s inflight entertainment programme.
“This means we’re able to offer a whole-of-journey advertising solution,” says Cook. “It is the first time an out-of-home company has been responsible for an inflight offering.
He explains: "We can help advertisers reach passengers on approach to the airport, within the Departure Lounge, while waiting in business lounges, while inflight on Qantas domestic routes, at baggage collection carousels and while departing from major airports across the country.’’
In the 12 months to December 2018 oOh! Fly enjoyed an impressive 27% organic revenue growth year-on-year. In turn, that top-line rise spurred a 25% uplift in increased underlying EBITDA to A$112.5 million (US$77.5 million). Organic underlying EBITDA growth (excluding Commute, formerly known as Adshel) rose +5% to A$94.2 million (US$64.9 million).
“We remain confident of continued growth in the Out of Home sector,” says Cook, looking at the company’s prospects for the balance of 2019. “We have provided guidance for the year ending 31 December of an underlying EBITDA range of A$152 million (US$105 million) to A$162 million (US$112 million).’’
He adds: “While there are others in the airport advertising game locally and internationally, we have developed a solution that provides advertisers a strategic way to reach and engage with the domestic airport audience to achieve both short and long-term client campaign objectives. This has led to a wide range of clients looking to advertise that we don’t see anywhere in the world. It seems to us, that airport sales thinking is very narrow elsewhere.”
Unfazed by consolidation
The OOH market in Australia has recently undergone big changes, with JCDecaux buying APN Outdoor and oOh! acquiring Adshel from HT&E, which formerly partnered with Clear Channel. Cook believes that the shifting landscape has strengthened oOh!’s position.
“At around the same time HT&E agreed to our offer to purchase Adshel, we saw JCDecaux acquiring APN Outdoor, consolidating the industry from four major players to two,” he explains. “This was important for the industry, as it meant that it could better compete against other media and continue to innovate and invest. Following the consolidation, oOh! is the leader; and it is committed to maintaining its market-leading revenue and product mix positioning in Australia and New Zealand.”
Pressed on the subject of international expansion, Cook notes that oOh! isn’t yet poised for this step. “Our current focus is on developing the Out of Home sector in Australia and New Zealand, and seeing the industry increase its share of the media pie to 10% in the near future.”
Returning to the theme of innovation, he comments: “oOh! is without doubt driving airport innovation – we see it as more than a channel for prestigious brands, but as one that helps advertisers reach the right audiences at the right time when they are in transit. Our proposition is entirely based on reaching specific audiences within the airport environment, based on data and insight – not simply relying on the fact that we help premium products reach premium audiences.
“Innovation is at the heart of what we do, and this has been recognised by a number of awards – particularly the Moodies Awards [in 2019 for Best Tactical Advertising Campaign for the Lexus Melbourne Cup campaign -see below, Ed]
“Our move into the Qantas lounges was how we saw the OOH industry playing a role in the airport environment. It became more than just advertising – it is a platform for brands to gain engagement with their audiences. This was further amplified when we gained the rights to the airline’s inflight entertainment – giving an end-to-end solution for people on domestic flights.”
oOh! is also alive to the opportunities and challenges presented by smartphones and social media, through the company’s acquisition of Australian digital media company Junkee Media in June 2016.
Among his favourite recent advertising campaigns, Cook picks out the Moodies Awards-winning campaign for Lexus, which aimed to leverage the company’s sponsorship deal with the Victorian Racing Club and its premier event, the Melbourne Cup.
The multiformat Out of Home campaign ran on oOh!’s screens throughout airports across the country, using Qantas Clubs and Domestic Business Lounges, Collect and Connect screens and inflight entertainment onboard aircraft with Wi-Fi to carry a live broadcast of the race. The race was also broadcast on Australia’s largest full motion digital billboard, The Bourke, located in Melbourne’s shopping precinct Bourke Street Mall.
This inflight entertainment first of broadcasting live content to passengers drove a 5.8% click-through rate, and prompted almost 17,000 tweets referencing the ten-day OOH campaign and integrated content.
Cook is understandably upbeat about the future of airport advertising. “The airport is more than a functional environment – for many it is the starting point and end point for a special part of their life,” he says.
“Airports have evolved to reflect the change in passenger expectations, and we need to look at how we can ensure our assets are meeting the changing passenger expectations. Advertising signage needs to be more than signage that pushes advertising; it needs to be a platform which delivers content that engages audiences.
“oOh! believes in reinvention,” Cook concludes. “In Australia we have proven that we grow the market – and consequently increase dollars to airports – by constantly evolving public space use of signage for art and content that is of value to passengers.”
Reinvention is precisely what oOh! has been practising ever since it set forth on its journey back in April 1989. That part-time office cleaner has come a long way since.
On the record with Brendon Cook
On restoring the ‘decay in trust and truth’
“For me, the fact that trust and truth in society are declining is of great concern and something we all need to make an effort to turn around. Personally, trust is paramount to me and my relationships. Professionally, trust has been critical to oOh!media’s success.
“At oOh! we are always looking at how we can improve, build and maintain trust with advertisers, agencies and a whole range of other stakeholders including property owners, shareholders and our people. We know that to build trust with our stakeholders we need to deliver real promises, backed up by real products and real actions.” – (LinkedIn 2017)
On the challenge posted by JCDecaux’s acquisition of APN Outdoor
“We’re very happy to compete against the merged entity, and so we don’t see anything changing from our point of view. We’re not intimidated by anybody. We know what we’ve got to do, we’re good at what we do, and we’ll do it." – B&T September 2018
On the company’s competitive armoury
“oOh! now has ownership of all the required components to lead the market and drive continued category growth – multiple formats and reach, digital capability, creative and content, and audience data.” – Speaking to the oOH! AGM, May 2019 (AdNews)
On OOH industry parlance
“It’s time the OOH industry retired the terms static and digital and moved to classic and dynamic.”
oOh!’s Lexus Melbourne Cup Promotion won the 2019 Moodies award for Best Tactical Advertising by an Agency.
The judges said, “This impressive campaign delivered on two key goals: announcing Lexus’ naming rights of Australia’s most iconic sporting event – The Melbourne Cup – and aligning the Lexus brand with perhaps Australia’s most iconic brand, Qantas.
“The high-profile campaign dominated premium terminal and lounge environments over the seven days leading up to, and on race day itself, ultimately delivering its objective of high-quaility, high-traffic engagement.”