Kinetic's Taylor calls for collaboration and climate action on eve of departure
The outgoing boss of WPP's specialist out-of-home agency, Kinetic, has warned that the sector must do more to collaborate for the health of the market, while also appealing to its creative talent and media power to help fight against climate change.
Speaking to Mediatel News on a range of topics as he prepared to hand over the reins, Stuart Taylor, who retires this month after six years in the role, said his personal view has always been that the outdoor industry needs a strong trade and marketing body, but lamented that a lack of funding in Outsmart meant the sector was left wanting.
"My parting message to the industry is that collaboration on a much greater scale is key," Taylor said.
"I'm not the first person to say that, but it's important. Outdoor is the only medium that lacks a well funded trade body to shout about its strengths, to educate the wider market and to crucially align the sector around the direction of travel and forward momentum."
Taylor added that everyone in OOH was "doing their bit", and there existed some vital initiatives, but "collectively we don't have that unified voice."
Taylor said this was perhaps now more important than in the past as the OOH industry seeks to meaningfully integrate digital media planning and buying tools into the workflow and wider structure of the sector.
"The next wave of growth has got to come from people stepping up outside their particular territory to foster a much more collaborative approach."
Taylor's messages come as major UK clients, including Nationwide and Vodafone, delivered a unified call for changes in the OOH market, including a funding reappraisal for Outsmart, which was downsized and stripped of a CEO and chairman in 2016.
In an open letter, published by Mediatel News, the clients said they "strongly urge" the biggest media owners in the OOH market, JCDecaux and new entrants Global Outdoor, along with other stakeholders, to fund Outsmart "appropriately", so it can "regain the influence and momentum" it once had.
"If you could apply just five per cent of the creative and persuasive skills that the industry has, let alone the vast array of media capability via the available inventory, I think the industry would be capable of incredible and radical influence," Taylor said, adding that he has sympathies with activist group Extinction Rebellion.
There is this groundswell. But the industry has got to step on behalf of its clients and play a crucial role"
"I've been thinking about this a lot and so have many other people in our industry. Sky is lending support to clean up the oceans from plastic, ITV is getting kids to eat more vegetables and out-of-home often gives away free inventory for charitable causes. But together there is just so much more we can do to change behaviour."
Taylor added that the ad industry is often at its best when it is doing work for charities - "really pulling on the heartstrings and doing really emotionally gripping, compelling work" - but stated that climate change was the "mother of all causes".
"It is increasingly a subject I've been worried about over the years and every time I talk about it to people they're concerned too. So I think there is this groundswell. But the industry has got to step on behalf of its clients and play a crucial role."
From the reinvention of phone boxes into digital ad units that provide free wi-fi, to escalator 'ribbons' on the London Underground offering new video and creative opportunities, out-of-home is in the midst of technological transformation.
The proliferation of digital out-of-home screens (DOOH) has helped drive weekly digital impacts to 1.1bn across the UK, according to Route, the sector's independent measurement currency.
The figure is a 36% increase in the last year, signalling vast change for what is the world's oldest advertising medium.
Indeed, last month, GroupM, the investment arm of WPP, said digital formats are increasingly important for OOH, accounting for half of spending in the sector during 2018.
Further share gains are still to come as more automation takes root including the emergence of performance-based targeting and data-driven trading. For now, however, OOH growth is forecast to exceed 3% in both 2019 and 2020.
Out-of-home is like a full funnel solution and has become a much more integrated part of performance marketing"
Appointed as UK chief executive in 2013, Taylor was tasked with overseeing growth in digital screens, planning and trading technology.
Digital OOH has since caused "a really positive reappraisal" of the medium by clients, Taylor said, and unlike other mediums, is capable of delivering both long-term branding and short-term sales activation.
"Out-of-home is like a full funnel solution and has become a much more integrated part of performance marketing. That's become really important in the current cluttered marketplace.
"We see outdoor now as a shop window - you pass by a 48 sheet or a digital screen and you think, oh, that's interesting. And of course it's now a primer for mobile.
"And Apple, Facebook, they're all very, very big users. Why? Because out-of-home reaches everybody. There's that sense of it having an evergreen quality."
Taylor said the "smart money" for future growth will lie in digital, but as he expressed previously, that should not always be at the expense of the classic billboard, which his agency's top planners believe should be a serious and long-term part of the OOH mix.
He also warns that the issues that have plagued the digital industry around transparency, trust and accountability must never undermine OOH. "It only takes one bad player to tarnish the industry," he said. "Digital out-of-home has got to come to market with a fully accountable approach."
Yet the opportunities outweigh the risks, he added - citing digital's flexibility and its ability to work well with mobile and even addressable TV.
"If digital outdoor can be part of that ecosystem, that's where the much bigger budgets are. And I think it will pull in new and incremental money."
Indeed, Taylor's replacement, Alistair MacCallum, who is currently the boss of M/SIX, will be tasked with growing billings and revenue with a direct push towards digital, including leveraging the capabilities of digital screens, smartphones, data and programmatic.
Aside from notable pitch wins, during his tenure Taylor said he is most proud of his team, and says others will judge what he has done in the role.
"But the thing I'm personally most proud of is the evolution that Kinetic as a business has undergone. We've been fully engaged and at the forefront of all types of change within the industry, diversifying far beyond just planning and buying posters and screens."
Beyond bringing in digital, data and research skills, under Taylor's leadership, the agency has launched KineticX, a startup incubator for new OOH tech with an environmental mission; has expanded into creative and digital artwork through Kinetic Studio and through its creative solutions team, Kinetic Active; and driven a diversity programme in one of the least diverse advertising sub-sectors through its Balance programme.
Amongst that, Taylor - who was previously the chief executive of Guardian Media Group Radio before it was purchased by Global - says he has no professional regrets, aside from not changing the office coffee machine sooner.
"I've no regrets at all. And I feel particularly privileged to have led Kinetic through a really dynamic time in outdoor.
"I'm entering a new chapter. Contractually, I'm retiring and I want to do things differently in my life."
However, adland might still see him in some advisory or non-executive roles later down the line.
"I'd like to stay connected to the industry," he said.
Mediatel operate SPACE, which is a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart. SPACE is the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of OOH inventory in the UK. See oohspace.co.uk for more information.