Global out of home media company JCDecaux is making moves to bolster its offerings, particularly digital, in its African markets, using an unconventional different approach. Michael Bratt sat down with Mark Cooper, chief executive officer of JCDecaux Sub-Saharan Africa, to find out more.
With 30% of JCDecaux Sub-Saharan Africa owned by the Royal Bafokeng Holdings, its direction is very much driven by their active involvement, Cooper says. “JCDecaux never looks for local partners that are just going to be investors; we want people who are contributing to the evolution of the business, and they are very engaged partners.”
The group’s strategy is underpinned by a set of values – design, quality, innovation and sustainability – which is a direction from the international family run business. This strategy is a simple one: go beyond being simply a billboard company to offer products and services that are beneficial to society.
“We’re working very hard with the different stakeholders in the sectors we want to work in such as airports, municipalities and transit systems, to see how JCDecaux can add different services to that real estate at no cost to those landlords while at the same time, providing innovative, world class advertising solutions for our media clients,” Cooper explains.
Examples include automatic self-cleaning toilets, waste management and the construction of street furniture such as litter bins, solar street lights, and bus shelters, which cities are having difficulty creating to International standards. Cooper highlights, in particular, the bus shelters which are functional. “We want assets on the street that are needed and provide value. We don’t want advertising to be there, just for the sake of advertising.” Not only do they provide shelter from the elements for commuters, but they also give them interactive information about the city, free wi-fi, and a place where they can charge their electronic devices.
Aesthetics, partners, and sustainability
Other factors that guide JCDecaux’s operations include how products look, partners and the impact on the environment. “We work with over 50 of the world’s biggest designers because we care about how the product looks on the street so we want to enhance the environment,” Cooper says. He adds, “You have to work within the bylaws and we see cities as partners, not landlords. It’s a different approach to other media owners”. The company’s impact on the environment is also something that is strongly considered in all of its business, with an international sustainability team establishing, monitoring and measuring targets.
Growing local brands
In July 2015, JCDecaux combined its business with South African brand Continential Outdoor. This is an example of another facet of the company’s strategy, which is to employ, partner with and develop local talent, making them the engine that drives the business. This also enhances the call for transformation, which the brand is seeing particularly in the 18 African markets in which it does business. “We have 400 employees across the African markets today, but we only have four expats. That’s an indicator of us bringing the JCDecaux expertise, knowledge and support and helping the local people understand that and then getting them to stand on their own two feet and then to take those values with their own momentum, ideas and solutions as well,” Cooper says, highlighting the strides JCDecaux has made in terms of transformation.
New technology and the possibilities
JCDecaux is investigating further digital opportunities to make their assets more functional. This includes incorporating facial recognition and number plate recognition software into these assets, CCTV, mobile communication cells, and possibly even technology that can warn of earthquakes and tsunamis.
“We have over 100 engineers in our research and development offices and they’re working on evolving existing products and introducing new products,” Cooper comments.
While products are standard across global markets, sometimes they may need to be tweaked slightly for a local environment. For example, glass is used in bus shelters in Europe, would that work in Africa? Cooper also reveals that the group will work cleverly with creative and media agencies to show how OOH can balance with advertising on TV, mobile and radio for example. “We would never say that OOH was to be the only thing on a media buying plan, it’s always a combination of media… and JCDecaux will deliver it differently to how it has been done before”.
The biggest media owner in the world, Google, is a customer of JCDecaux’s, along with other social giants, which Cooper says “shows the power of outdoor”.
Creating a more dynamic change of copy to make the streetscape more exciting and to get the consumer more engaged is another element that JCDecaux is to focus on. Having an internal creative team is a major advantage for the group and since digital is a natural progression, people will be seeing more digital offerings from the OOH player, although Cooper cautions that JCDecaux is looking at “slowing down” video adverts (standard animation vs. full animation) to make them less busy (so the message stands out more making it more effective).
A wealth of opportunities
Cooper believes African markets have not yet fully capitalised from the JCDecaux strategy and that there are still a vast number of opportunities. When asked what challenges he is seeing in these markets, Cooper cites clear bylaw definitions and effective bylaw management as testing. However, JCDecaux is working with cities to improve this element and to assist them with de-cluttering the OOH space.
“We see less advertising as the future. There’s too much advertising today in most of the cities across Sub-Saharan Africa,” he reckons. Cooper sees South Africa as having many sophisticated elements, and even though there are economic and political challenges, the innovation, optimisation and calibre of people coming out of particularly Johannesburg and Cape Town excites him.
Enhancing effective OOH measurement
The JCDecaux team have been pioneers in creating the ROAD OOH measurement system, according to Cooper. Measurement of the medium is a vital tool to make it more effective.
Cooper is bold about the company’s vision. “We are here to invest for the long-term, to grow local businesses in each market with local people, and to deliver excellent services to cities and excellent creative opportunities to our media partners”.
A rich history
Founded in 1964 by Jean-Claude Decaux, the business is still 70% family owned, with his three sons now running operations. It has a storied history over the years and now has a presence in 76 markets, covering 4 300 cities, and employing over 13 000 people.
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