Last week, Brendon Cook (left) received the Sir Charles McGrath Award at the Australian Marketing Institute’s annual awards.
Cook, who founded Outdoor Network Australia now, known as oOh! Media, back in 1989 was being recognised for his outstanding contribution to the field of marketing through sound business practice and industry achievements.
Cook is currently a non-executive consultant at oOh!, as well as an advisor to or board member of six further companies around the world.
In a packed night, Cook’s award and speech stood out. B&T caught up with Cook after the event to find out his tips for marketing success and, with more than 40 years in the industry, what he expects to come next.
B&T: Why are events such as the AMI Awards important for the industry?
Cook: At the end of the day, the AMI should have the same standing as certified accountants, the chartered accountants guild, all the various other accounting professional groups or legal professional groups.
The AMI, in my view, is that standard and that’s what we should be creating for the industry. I applaud them for all the work they’re doing around the CPM programme. I think it’s critical that marketers are recognised as equivalent to finance people, lawyers, and other industries.
B&T: Why do you think marketers do not have that same standing?
C: It’s always a good question and a difficult one to answer. I think the great marketers are within organisations where they report to the CEO or have close contact with boards.
But I think there is a lack of understanding of the value of marketing, within the finance industry at times. I think CFOs understand it materially. Some don’t, but I think some marketers need to get out and learn sales, get out and learn finance, as well. I think the good marketers have those broad skills, and they know that what they’re doing is to get an outcome for a business, and the great marketers are conscious of return on investment (ROI). They’re conscious of how they get the real value, but they’re also conscious that there are metrics that are hard to explain, and they find a way to explain them to boards.
B&T: Are you optimistic about the future of the marketing industry?
C: In a world that is providing so many opportunities for disruption of your business, marketing is critical.
The marketer has to be the person or the teams that work out how to keep reinventing your business, keep reinventing your positioning, so that you can stay ahead of the competition and those that are coming from left-field, that could enter your territories.
Marketers should become adept at trying to see what will disrupt their own business because if you don’t know where you’re going to get disrupted, or could get disrupted, you don’t know how to protect yourself from it.
B&T: What did mean to you to win the Sir Charles McGrath award?
C: To say I was shocked would probably be an understatement, to be fair.
It’s not the sort of award that people nominate for. So, straightaway, that elevates it in my point of view. The criteria is the board searching for and understanding people in the industry and, what I’m sure, is a fairly healthy field. It was quite humbling. For me personally, I think it’s a recognition of the out-of-home industry here in Australia and New Zealand, but also globally.
It’s the first media that ever existed and really, in the last 20 years, it’s reinvented itself and it’s been a pleasure to have had a big role in helping that. In reality, any major marketing campaign that drives the highest ROIs has got out-of-home as part of it.
I’m fortunate enough to be involved with a global cross media company based out of the Netherlands called BeatGrid, and I’m on the Global Advisory Board. I’m getting to see, as that work keeps maturing, the results of campaigns, and what you see is the changes in people’s behaviours and patterns.
For example, in audio-based products, what you see is that out-of-home is driving significant incremental reach to campaigns. And when you can see that, and see that in a one-product view of measurement across all media, rather than individual measurement by individual mediums, they’re able to grade the performance of various media and understand why out-of-home does fit into that top three, critical component of mixing with digital and audio products to drive greatest ROI. You start to realise why when you see that incrementality in reach.
B&T: One of the criteria for the award is demonstrating leadership in industry. What does leadership in marketing mean to you?
C: It means attacking the big issues, not just disrupting, the industry needs to attack the big issues.
If we go back to 2005, when the out-of-home industry brought the first national audience measurement system, we played a leading role in that. We had a product for billboards only that a number of us developed, to try and encourage the medium to get together to form up.
For example, the work that we’ve always done around leadership had been working with agencies and independent companies like our analytics partners. Globally, we work very hard with a whole group of CEOs around the world to take, what was a European body, to turn it into the World Out-of-Home Organisation, which has 40 countries represented, and getting consistencies across measurement, across a whole range of things, across the industry.
Those approaches also led to the industry being able to build up its credibility. So, when it needed to really change its financial model, to allow for a speedy digitization to scale, we were able to bring in a lot of private equity money to help us switch. Our companies were generally spending about three to six per cent of their revenue on new inventories per year, or changing inventories per year. We needed 20 to 30 per cent, for about two or three years running, and you just couldn’t do that on your normal capital base. So the speed with which the industry was able to work out how to get the capital and change that medium up, is now being reflected in the growth that the medium is having and the performance it has shown for clients.
B&T: Would you say that the standardisation of measurement has been the most significant change over your career?
C: I think getting a unified measurement is important and 2.0 will be another extension of that. That’s one of the critical factors.
I think the bigger one, or as big as that, to me was the investment in the quality of the inventories. Then thirdly, particularly here in Australia, I will say that it was the increase of investment for clients who, rather than saying just keep your five per cent at the end of the budget, really started asking how much we need to spend on out-of-home to really make this part of the proper campaign mix. And when those clients started spending the appropriate amount of money to get the reach and the potential of what out-of-home could deliver in the media mix, it was no coincidence that their ROI has improved dramatically.
B&T: What advice would you offer to a new marketer coming into the industry?
C: Firstly, I think try to surround yourself with, and meet others, outside your business, try and learn from all different people in all different roles around the way a company works but also, the way the suppliers to the company works. Don’t just get yourself wrapped up in your product and your business. Think broader than that.
I used to say to people, when they would join Out-Of-Home! that you’ve got to learn how a TV rep would sell, how a radio rep would sell. But then you’ve got to work out why the marketer would want to buy any of those products to be a great salesperson. If you can’t work out why they would buy things, or why they would do something, then how can you tell them why those products would benefit them?
If a marketer gets very narrow in their approach or thinking, then they don’t have the holistic views they need. So, make sure you do build that inquisitive capability to constantly improve yourself by understanding how all sorts of businesses really achieve their brand and financial success.
Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
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