As what goes up must come down, people indoors will come out again, and out of home media will be waiting for them.
What becomes of a category built on selling audiences when there is no audience? When billboards that once proudly proclaimed brand messages, gleaming in the sunlight on roadsides, no longer have commuters to communicate to?
When consumers are told to stay at home – yet as the name suggests, the very nature of your industry relies on consumers being out of their homes?
Like so many industries that are reliant on the inherently social nature of human beings, when lockdown was announced last year, our entire sector was forced to rethink how we did business. Tractor Outdoor celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and I’m proud to say that coming from the most difficult year we’ve ever faced, we’ve grown up as a business. Not only have we proven our mettle, but we’ve also seen our priorities shift along with the goalposts as it becomes clear what is truly important.
From competitors to community
Over the past few months it was exciting to see a rising spirit of collaboration, as media owners came together as a community, rather than as competitors. The industry realised that in order to survive, we needed to work together to find creative solutions to the challenges we faced.
We’re all too familiar with the ‘We’re in this together’ messaging that’s been brandished across every medium known to man, and while its repetition may have rendered it a platitude, the sentiment is true for our industry. Partnerships between operators, smaller suppliers, media owners and clients were borne – a silver lining that saw us come together to ensure the survival of our category, which will continue long after the virus has left us.
Acceleration of digital
No 2020 reflection would be complete without a nod to the increasingly important role that digital plays in a new, low-contact world. How does this look in the world of outdoor media? Innovation in the sphere of digital out of home (DOOH) media, of course.
Programmatic buying is a well-known concept internationally, but less so in South Africa. The acceleration of digital has allowed DOOH to demonstrate its massive potential and the benefits it offers to brands by allowing for refined targeting within a high-reach, high frequency medium.
We’re one of the first to offer a programmatic approach to DOOH buying, enabling a marketer to bid against other competing businesses for the same target audience – effectively buying impressions on a cost per thousand basis via an advertising exchange. And this is only the tip of the iceberg; I expect to see a lot more innovation in this space in future.
We also recently became the first specialist OOH media owner to join the Interactive Advertising Bureau South Africa, a move that demonstrates an increasing ‘blurring’ between the offline and online world.
Will the classic billboard become a casualty of Covid-19? While traditional OOH may have taken a knock, there’s still an important place for it a post-pandemic world. There is nothing quite like a larger-than-life billboard in an iconic, high-traffic location – and I don’t expect we’ll say goodbye to it any time soon.
Looking outwards, then inwards
In 2020, we launched the Tractor Outdoor SME Advertising Fund, with the intention of supporting businesses that were hardest hit by the pandemic, also providing SMEs with free advertising via our media network in an effort to help them survive lockdown.
Jared Osmond of King James Cape Town summed it up perfectly when he said, “Clients want to be top of mind when times are good, they need to be top of mind when times are bad.” We were fortunate in that our business remained in a solid position, and we felt that it was our duty to help other businesses that needed support, using the resources at our disposal.
The initiative was well received, and we’ll build on this in the year ahead. As we celebrate two decades in business, we’ve committed to helping another 20 SMEs in 2021, in the hope that they too will someday celebrate their 20th anniversary.
When lockdown was first announced, we committed to keeping every staff member on payroll. However, the expectation was that employees would treat everyone on their own ‘personal payroll’ the same: domestic workers, gardeners and so on would continue to be paid in full, as they too have their own families to provide for. We recognised the importance of protecting our ecosystem, and we knew that in order for our broader community to survive, we needed to do our part.
The SME campaign also became a pivotal or ‘trigger’ moment for us, which led to a shift in our entire approach to business. We’re now in the process of obtaining our B Corporation certification, which is granted to companies that meet the criteria of balancing profit and purpose. Our responsibility to shareholders will remain, but there’s now a greater emphasis on the role we play within our community, as we recognise our potential to create ripples of change that will positively impact the social and environmental fabric of our country.
The future of outdoor
Outdoor media is resilient. We’ve seen it with past crises such as World War II and the Great Depression: once the threat lifts, people come out in their droves. As an industry we’re well positioned to ride out the storm, and those businesses that survive will bounce back stronger and with the resilience to navigate future challenges.
While 2020 was tough and it will be a while longer until things start to improve, the Queen of England’s words – illuminated on outdoor media at Piccadilly Circus, one of the most iconic outdoor locations of all time – continue to resonate: “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
With a career spanning almost two decades and multiple continents, Simon Wall is CEO and a founding shareholder of Tractor Outdoor – one of the largest independent media owners in South Africa, specialising in connecting brands to consumers through its network of OOH and DOOH inventory. He has a degree in marketing from the University of Cape Town.
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