The final words of the conference delivered by hosts Kevin Gleason and David Krupp were a quote by OOH veteran Doug Watts: “While those other media are crippled and fading, OOH has survived, adapted, and succeeded. OOH is not only still standing, it is standing tall. Your members and the industry as a whole have much to be proud of.”
I think this best conveyed the essence of the 2017 OAAA\Geopath National Convention + Expo that took place in New Orleans on May 15-17.
I came to my first OAAA/Geopath convention after years of attending digital signage events, most of them excellent. Digital signage is a young, fast-growing industry driven by rapid developments in display and software technology. It delivers the tech component of digital out-of-home advertising (DOOH).
By contrast, OAAA is one 0f the oldest trade organizations, representing the oldest medium on earth.
However, there was nothing old or “traditional” about what I saw at the convention.
The event was as hi-tech as one could imagine, with smart badges that interacted with screens and smartphones; event apps, live social media coverage, latest networked digital displays, smoothly operated stage equipment and free wi-fi Internet access.
There were a lot of live demos of the newest hardware, software and audience measurement tools by the exhibitors.
1024 attendees and 36 exhibitor teams at the sold-out event were a mixture of advertising and media technology professionals. Among them – executives of the world’s largest OOH ad operators and tech vendors.
The conference agenda was packed with insightful presentations that painted the “big picture” of the OOH market and covered forecasts and trends.
From Corning’s Jeffrey Evenson I learned that due to accelerating innovations in glass, we are entering “The Glass Age,” which will enhance DOOH advertising in a major way.
Jim Spaeth of Sequent Partners told the delegates that creative can be responsible for as much as 80% of an OOH campaign’s ROI.
It also became clear that several tech giants, Google among them, are already pretty much in the DOOH space. Alphabet/Google is in with its Intersection (LinkNYC), Waze Ads (virtual in-map OOH ads) and DOOH networks powered by the Chrome platform (Coca-Cola and Toyota dealerships).
In her keynote speech, OAAA’s President and CEO Nancy Fletcher revealed that:
- The biggest brands are now treating OOH as a standard line item in their media plans.
- OOH has achieved an unprecedented milestone of 28 consecutive quarters of growth.
- In 2016 industry revenue hit an all-time high of 7.6 billion dollars.
- Every segment of the business was up in 2016 – digital and printed – billboards, street furniture, transit, and place-based OOH.
- One-quarter of the Top-100 OOH advertisers are now digital or tech brands like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple.
- This year, OOH revenues will surpass magazines, and then overtake newspapers in 2019.
The networking breaks and receptions allowed for rubbing shoulders with the brightest minds in the field. Some brief chats informed me more than months of reading trade press releases.
The luncheon with the famous National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore hosted by the OAAA was a special treat. Joel’s stunning photos are featured in the national OOH campaign #SaveTogether dedicated to saving the endangered species. The campaign was launched right after the Look Out 2017 event.
The annual convention is organized by Geopath (formerly Traffic Audit Bureau) and the OAAA, and travels to a new city each year. If you met OAAA’s Nancy Fletcher and Geopath’s chief Kym Frank, you understand where the vibrant energy of the event comes from.
Nancy recently celebrated her 25th anniversary of leading the OAAA. She took over the reins when the industry was not in its best shape and greatly contributed to the current revival of the medium.
In just two years at the helm of Geopath, Kym Frank has modernized the organization under a new brand name and overhauled OOH audience measurement methodologies and tools. Geopath is now in the process of developing a brand new platform, “a state of the art OOH measurement and insights system.”
There was a lot to celebrate, no doubt, but there was also an understanding that not all is roses in the OOH garden. Far from it.
Buying and selling needs to be simplified and automated. Ad effectiveness measurement has to be improved and extended from mainly cost-per-thousand impressions (CPMs) to cost-per-interaction and cost-per-transaction. Opposition to billboards has to be won over. Dumb creative has to be eradicated. Potential disruption by new technologies needs to be anticipated and tackled. Ad spend share needs to be increased.
These were the issues the conference speakers, panels and seminars were discussing and strategizing about. There is a long road ahead. As many people I spoke to said: We are just getting started.
The knowledge-filled convention was happening right in the heart of New Orleans, steps away from the French Quarter and historic landmarks. This is where I was introduced to crawfish etouffee, gumbo and beignets.
Apparently, New Orleanians (“noo aw-LEE-nee-ans”) are well aware that their roots are Acadian (“cajun”), i.e., from The Maritimes of Canada, and that’s probably why they treated us, Canadians, really well.
The historic Creole Queen riverboat served as transportation from the convention to the OBIE Awards ceremony. The boat was actually where the party (the Awards Opening Reception) started.
The Awards after-party, sponsored by Lamar, was held in the huge Mardi Gras World hangar, where everyone got a taste of the festivity (crab legs, oysters, marching bands included). Coincidentally, it was a Tuesday. As we learned later, that place was a non-stop Fat Tuesday all year round.
The next day, in the Royal Praline store, I stumbled upon a tea towel with a quote (allegedly) by Tennessee Williams: “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” Which meant that, after a life of traveling, I finally visited my third American city.
Another tea towel proclaimed: Laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll.
My wife’s Bloody Mary had a crawfish on top of the olives. OOH indeed.