Our Future is Not Guaranteed | Screenverse

Adam Malone reflects on the OAAA/Geopath conference's optimism for a 'roaring 20s' in advertising and the need for innovation post-2020 challenges.

Adam Malone, Co-Founder & President at Screenverse

Anna Bager gave an opening address to the 2021 OAAA/Geopath conference in which she detailed the state of the OOH Media marketplace.  The theme of the conference is “Future Proof” and her prognostication is that we are in for a “roaring 20’s” and another “golden age of advertising”.  “OOH will be there” as the world wakes up, as friends, families, and fans “reconnect” with each-other and their favorite pastimes.  “OOH is the backdrop for in-person, outdoor, reconnection”.

Anyone who didn’t just emerge from a 17 year slumber can tell you that this optimism stands in stark contrast to the last 15 months of our collective experience.  We just experienced the industry's most challenging year in a century.  Revenues were down 1/3 across the board.  Whole swaths of inventory rendered dormant.  People were furloughed, fired, and freaked out en masse.

One would be tempted to, in Anna’s position, chalk 2020 up to a black swan event and move on as if it never happened.  Or, at least, pine for the good old days where we could tout several thousand (or so it seems) consecutive quarters of industry growth.  Back when OOH was great.  Maybe we can make OOH great again?!

This message is for OOH specialists and, to a lesser extent, media owners.  2020 proved yet again that necessity is the mother of invention.  We had to reinvent ourselves constantly in order to survive, and as Anna said, many of us rose to the occasion and delivered some of our best work.

We rethought old business models.  Embraced technology and data to target and account for every dollar.  We insisted on fresh impressions data and followed audiences as patterns changed daily.  We brought creative ideas to our clients -- from digital screens in essential retail to pizza boxes, hand sanitizer, and PPE.  We hustled to find solutions to account for lost revenues.  We thought laterally.  As Scott Wells noted yesterday, we built out new verticals such as meal delivery, DTC, and community health and learned how to sell into them.  We had fire in our bellies and a willingness to fight for what we could get.

One of the things that’s always been a hallmark of OOH is that we are an industry of tight knit relationships.  We’ll look back on 2020 for years to come and remember clearly who took your phone calls, worked extra hard to extend the brief and sell through your idea.  And the agency folks who were trying to squeeze every available impression out of ever shrinking budgets will not forget the free media, the deep discounts, and the quick turnarounds from their media partners.

As we look forward to “re-opening, recovery, reconnection, rebirth”… please don’t revert back to the thinking, planning, and campaigns of yesteryear.

Anna Bager’s most poignant lesson for all of us yesterday was to “keep pushing.  The future is never guaranteed.”

Keep pushing.  The future is never guaranteed.

An agency leader I spoke with a few weeks ago told me he’s concerned with his team.  “All of our plans are starting to look the same, again.”  The creative fire that kept us alive in the hardest year of our professional lives is at risk of burning out.  Are we supposed to be done with the skill-building, the pushing and striving and leveling up because highway traffic is jamming again?  Because subway ridership is trending up and Times Square is packed?

How many Trade Desk Certifications were posted to Linkedin in December and are now collecting dust?

Don’t revert back to the same old same old.  I promise it will not work this time.

Follow audiences.  Insist on real-time data and impressions figures.  Lean in to digital place based media.  The tools, data, and technology that deliver real audiences in the real world.  Lean in to media that might never end up on Instagram but will drive real results for your clients.

Anna told us yesterday that  “future proof is not just about planning for worst case scenarios.  It is imagining best case new scenarios”.  Let’s imagine them.  Let’s build them.  And let’s do it with the same intensity and focus as we did when we had no other choice.


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