CEO Spotlight with Naren Patel (29/02/16)

CEO Spotlight with Naren Patel

You started at Primesight as a financial analyst, built to an IPO, saw it sold and then worked to buy it back as a private company. Did you fall in love with outdoor? See it as a way to get rich? :-) What was the impetus for your decisions?

I started at Primesight straight out of university, forsaking a structured graduate management training program in a leading UK business. The company was in a terrible state in 1991 and a new CEO had been parachuted in to rescue the business. He hired me to help him make sense of the numbers and turn the business around. Getting thrown in at the deep end into a business going bust gives you a great grounding for your career and the learning curve was exceptionally steep. We had some dark days but managed to recover the business and I was promoted to managing director in 1995. The business was floated on the Stock Exchange and has subsequently been through two other ownerships. Fortunately, the new owners have always wanted me to stay and grow the business further. I love working in Out-of-Home. It is an industry that has transformed itself from a medium dependent on fags and booze advertising to a vibrant, evolving platform that brands like Apple want to be associated with. A career in the City would have probably been more financially lucrative but the friendships I have built over the years stopped me from moving over to the dark side.

In terms of large format billboards, Primesight now reaches 98% of the UK population every week. What possibilities for growth do you see in that sector still within the UK? Can you grow organically or by further acquisitions, or are you looking outside the UK?

The OOH industry has excellent reach and a growing audience as more people spend more time out of home. In addition, the investment in digital infrastructure means the actual product on the street looks fantastic. However, analysis done by Route revealed that OOH receives 28% of media time spent but only 10% of media revenue. This clearly demonstrates the medium is underinvested and has significant growth potential. In terms of growing our estate, we already have the best and one of the largest classic billboard estates in the UK, with the top locations in the main cities. Our strategy is to hand-pick the very best locations and digitalize them. We expect to have the highest number of digital billboard locations in the UK by the end of 2016.We are always interested in acquisitions and have extremely supportive shareholders and banks, but remain focused in the UK.

You have added cinema posters, subway advertising, smaller street posters. Where do you see the most potential for growth and why?

We see significant growth coming more from technology via digitalization, automation and the creation of live open access availability of media space. We remain interested in new locations and environments but our focus is on transforming our existing business via technology.

Are you using programmatic buying? For everything? Please give us your opinion about it.

I believe the benefits for the industry are greater if we focus on automation as opposed to talking about programmatic. We need to automate processes and bookings as this will bring a lot of efficiency into the sector. We were the first media owner to allow the specialist media buyers to pipe into our availability systems and are working with them to create automated trading platforms. We have run a number of small programmatic campaigns but our preference is that this is used to amplify national campaigns using different factors to determine playout times. In time, programmatic will evolve in OOH as the amount of digital inventory increases. However, we need to start with the basics of automation before contemplating programmatic.

Where are you using NFC, QR and beacons?

We have used these NFC and QR technologies on our Convenience 6 sheet panels as well as in cinema foyers and the Subway in Glasgow. We are looking to deploy beacons in these environments in the first half of this year.

Why did you recently choose BroadSign for your software platform?

We had several different software platforms within the business and decided to consolidate to a singular platform that could integrate with our booking system and improve efficiency. We looked at several suppliers and BroadSign was the product that met our requirements, particularly when it came to campaign reporting and scheduling flexibility. Outsmart, the organization of OOH and DOOH media owners, and the IPAO (the specialist outdoor media buyers) have agreed a set of standards for digital campaign reporting, and our investment in BroadSign will ensure that we meet the highest standard achievable.

What kind of new technology do you expect may be used by the billboard sector? And what kind of research do you think is needed by billboard companies to allow them to offer advertising with full specific targeting?

Using digital billboards for specific targeting is a very small part of the market. Billboards are a coverage medium and its core strength is that billboards make brands famous. I think the whole industry has gone a bit targeting mad. If all brands do is target their core audience, in the long run they won’t have an audience. We need to remind the market of the strength of mass reach. According to Byron Sharp, Professor of Marketing Science at the University of South Australia, in his book ‘How Brands Grow’, there is no reason to complicate your marketing lives with targeting and segmenting customers, whether based on lifestyle, category usage or brand loyalty. Positioning brands for particular target segments is as futile as brand positioning by creating a differentiated brand ‘personality’. Successful growth brands have universal appeal, and mass marketing with a single reach-optimized, simple message is still the most effective way to drive sales. We need to continue to understand and measure the impact that digital billboards have on wider classic and multimedia campaigns as opposed to trying to use the product for targeting. It may make sense to develop targeting for a one-to-one digital product like ATM or Petrol Station advertising but I am not convinced it is the correct role for digital billboards.

What kind of research does Primesight use for its various product sectors?

As part of our ‘Results are our Culture’ ethos, we have a strong focus on measuring campaign effectiveness. A number of clients use our pre-campaign creative optimization tool called Primedesign which was developed by 3M. Last year, we launched Primemobile Live, which is our real time campaign tracking tool which was short listed for a Mediatel media research award. We regularly run research using EPOS results to demonstrate the impact OOH posters have on products sales and online tools such as Hitwise to measure the impact on search.

Neuroscience and behaviour seem to be very important to Primesight. Please give us your views on these?

We recognize the need to better understand the way consumers receive and process outdoor advertising messages. When people are out of home they are in an ultra-absorbent, alert state of mind, which make OOH posters a perfect medium for them.

What percentage of your properties are digital? Please give us a breakdown and your plans for same.

Primesight currently operate 250 small format digital panels in cinema foyers and the Subway in Glasgow. We started our billboard digital transformation project last year, converting 50 of our best 48 sheets to create a ‘Network’. This product delivers the best coverage across the UK and we are looking to increase the number of panels to 100 sites by the year-end, which will take the total number of digital panel we market to 350 sites. This will represent less than 2% of our sites.

What is the most technologically advanced campaign ever developed and run on Primesight properties? Tell us about it.

The campaign we ran for Lucozade last year is the most technologically advanced campaign so far and also my favourite campaign for last year. It was a large national campaign that used several formats and media channels. The creative was excellent with bright colours and really brought the ‘find your flow’ theme to life. The client used our digital billboards to amplify the classic poster campaign to ensure they maximized reach. The really clever part of the campaign was our work with GTN to synchronize the digital copy playing on the billboards with radio advertising. Unsuspecting drivers who were listening to the radio commercial were suddenly served the advert on a giant digital billboard… Truly amazing, innovative and ground-breaking work.

Do you partner with other companies for eg. experiential needs for subway domination or where audio is needed, or do you handle everything in-house?

We prefer to work with partners with expertise in certain fields as this allows us to do what we do best. Although this approach is more expensive, it greatly improves the chance of a campaign being successful.

In what area do you feel that the digital out-of-home industry needs education?

The digital out-of-home sector spends too much time chasing Classic OOH money. In the UK, the OOH market is worth £1b while the Online/Mobile digital market is worth over £8b. The Classic OOH revenue has been the low hanging fruit but the industry needs to get a bigger slug of the online digital market to really grow. In order to do this we need to better understand the digital landscape and position our products to best take share out of the total digital market.

Primesight is a member of Outsmart. What does this bring to your company?

We see Outsmart as the OOH sectors champion and an investment in the future of the industry. Outsmart provides the forum for collaboration on important projects for the industry like automation, creativity and effectiveness. While the benefits of Outsmart may be shared by businesses who do not contribute to the costs, we think it’s important to continue to invest in it.

You are now a trustee on NABS. Has this been a longstanding interest of yours? What specifically spurred your interest?

NABS is the charity for the advertising industry and does amazing work for people in our industry who are facing difficulty, as well as helping people with learning and development. I have benefited hugely from the industry and getting involved with NABS allows me to give a little back.

You have one of the most complete websites that I have ever seen or judged. Was it done in-house or by whom on your behalf?

That is a very nice thing to say. We are great believers in pushing responsibility down the line and the website was designed entirely by our marketing team and we used external resources to publish it online.

From photos on your website, it looks as if at least half your staff is female. A lot of women tend to avoid technology jobs. What advice would you given women contemplating studies or careers in digital technology?

We are about 60% female and have no difficulties attracting male or female candidates. We consider ourselves an out-of-home business that is using technology to turbocharge our growth as opposed to a technology business. Candidates are attracted to the OOH sector due to its vibrancy and to Primesight because of our culture.The OOH industry is a great place to start a career for both men and women and, as the industry moves from analogue to digital, we are beginning to take on more staff with a background or training in digital technology. My advice for all people entering the OOH market is to spend time Out of Home looking at the amazing products that the industry has developed for advertisers. You will quickly realize why most of media brands in the country are strong supporters of the medium and you will hopefully become a big fan.

Your company has twice been named as a Best Company in the small companies’ category for which to work. By whom, and what do you feel led to the award?

This is an annual survey carried out by Best Companies and published in The Sunday Times. It includes data collected from over 1.5 million employees. Primesight received a 3 star rating in 2016 which is the highest rating possible and is, to the best of my knowledge, the highest rating media owner across all media in the survey. At Primesight we believe that it is people who drive results, and that consistent, well-earned results can only come from a business with a culture that is genuinely geared towards making this happen. We care deeply about our people and invest heavily in their wellbeing, learning and development. We offer flexible working, great benefits and a friendly, high energy environment. This all helps drive a high performance culture which fits in well with our challenger brand status.

The interview was published on 26th February by DailyDOOH