oOh!Media’s Cathy O’Conner: “Pandemics Aren’t Structural, Things Won’t Stay This Way Forever”

oOh!Media’s Cathy O’Conner: “Pandemics Aren’t Structural, Things Won’t Stay This Way Forever”
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oOh!media’s annual numbers were out yesterday (read them here) and B&T caught up with newly appointed CEO Cathy O’Conner to get the lay of Australia’s outdoor landscape…

A tough 12 months of trading for oOH! with profit down 34 per cent. What was your take on the numbers given the difficult trading conditions?

Looking at the numbers, the pandemic was what it was in 2020 and there’s no denying the out of home sector was impacted by the change in audience behaviours. But I’m pleased to say we’re through the worst of that. Looking at Q4 to December we certainly saw our revenue, when compared to 2019 levels rose; Q4 we got to about 70 per cent of 2019 levels.

Road, retail and street furniture and New Zealand lead the charge in that recovery and that’s continued into January where the broader business is pacing at 80 per cent and again, road, retail and street furniture is closer to 100 per cent.

Any areas of the business surprise? I guess it’d be safe to say airports were a total disaster?

Obviously our fly business, which is our airport business, and our Locate business that has a lot of exposure to CBD office towers, they were the two impacted formats. But in as much as those audiences and those environments were impacted by lockdowns, people started to move about their suburbs and their shopping centres and so forth.

I think having a suite of formats allowed us to continue to put a good audience proposition to the market and offset some of those negative impacts by getting advertisers to use more of the suburban inventory.

And we are starting to see people moving about the CBD a little more as we’ve come to the new year, but the airports continue to be impacted by travel. I think once we see domestic restrictions lifting, I think the benefits – at least domestically – will start flowing.

This is more a question of you as a business leader – do you think COVID will have lasting effects of how we work, do business?

I don’t think so. Pandemics aren’t structural, so things won’t stay this way forever. Although there’s been some behavioural changes I don’t see them as permanent. You do hear there’s an exodus to the regionals and people working from home… that’s where oOH! has its largest footprint and it is a differentiated footprint.

Our reach in regionals is quite stark to other sector competitors and we are the only ones with a national regional audience.

We have Australians however they choose to live and that’s a great underlying characteristic of our strategy and it’s the right strategy and it’s a powerful one.

I also don’t think the city audiences will stay low forever.

Looking ahead, what are the opportunities, the green shots, where will the investment be?

Looking to 2021 there’s some great things that we’re seeing. Again, road, retail, street furniture are going really well and leading the recovery and I’d say the briefing activity is starting to build, so all the formats that trade heavily with out of home are back in briefing mode again and we’re even starting to see the return of some of the sectors that were very quiet in 2020; automotive and domestic banks are now starting to think much longer term.

And we’re seeing a few briefs that are longer term in nature, big branding campaigns and people are now doing lay downs for much longer than just a few weeks. So all those normal behaviours on how brands use OOH are starting to return.

Which brands have been the most enthusiastic to engage with outdoor?

Obviously FMCG and the government have been the biggest spenders over the past 12 months, any brands that have needed to go the grassroots messaging of brands. But even the categories that really hauled in their budgets in 2020, things like entertainment, media, that’s all coming back now.

You famously moved from radio to the oOH! CEO role only six weeks ago. What have you learned, what are the differences in the two medias, how’ve you gone getting “the feet under the desk”?

The one thing I learned since moving across from radio is the level of engagement and dialogue that the agencies have around out of home and it is a larger part of agencies’ spend than radio and everyone is very upbeat and very enthusiastic and have a lot of views of how the industry can work together to really ensure that the growth continues to happen.

Clients like the medium and it’s been terrific, everyone has been very eager to engage around the future and that’s probably a slightly different dynamic to what I have been exposed to in other medias.

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Cathy O’Connor oOh!Media

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