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Mediacom Canada chief exec Kevin Johnson on OOH innovation

The out-of-home sector has undoubtedly been rocked by the Covid-19 pandemic. But there is still much about the medium to get excited by. Kevin Johnson, chief executive of Mediacom Canada and chair of The Drum Out of Home Awards in association with Alight Media, discusses his hopes for the sector.

The Drum: What has the experience of lockdown been for you and the team at Mediacom?

Kevin Johnson: Overall, our team is faring well, in spite of some of the challenges that we are all facing. You know, as we went through the first stage and the first few weeks of this pandemic, we tried to gain our feet into this new world, and learn how tools and technology would be able to help us.

While I had some real reservations about the consistency and the support that tools and tech would give us, six months later, I’m really pleased by how it’s been able to help us and the amount of stress that it’s taken off our people and our talent.

Overall, during this crazy time, we’ve been able to find our footing again. We’ve been able to be working and still doing as much as we can to create some of that bond that we are lacking based on the fact that we are no longer within each other's touch and within close proximity. We’re really trying to work through that. So, I’m really proud of the team and what we've been able to do during this time. And our focus right now as the leadership, is just trying to make sure that we keep that balance of work and life. We want to make sure that we're there for them.

TD: Is it difficult being a chief executive right now?

KJ: Being a chief executive at this time, it is a great learning experience – to be able to be in this position and learn through something that we've never faced before. It’s something that I can take on for the rest of my life, quite frankly. And I have three young children at home so we’re trying to maneuver through the interesting scenarios that that brings as well. So it’s been good. It’s been challenging, but I’m confident we all can get through it.

TD: Concentrating on the OOH sector, how has that been impacted for the last six months?

KR: As a community, we are far more indoors. Regardless of what region you’re within, OOH has suffered in terms of the traffic, the overall traffic decreasing significantly. But I think we can be optimistic in terms of it coming back because we’ve already seen here in Canada. Those numbers are beginning to rise again. The last few estimates that I’ve seen from various sources have us at 60% to 70% to pre Covid-19 traffic and presence across the board across the country. There’s a level of optimism there the more we open up. The more we begin to go outdoors and experience some of those places, sites and events, I’m really confident that we'll be able to see, alongside some of the outdoor numbers and traffic beginning to go back. The outdoor industry and the activity that we see in it will begin to increase again.

TD: What about client confidence? Are you seeing that comeback at all?

KR: We're already seeing clients come back into this media. Outdoor is really important to the overall mix. We’ve seen some great creative over the time. We know how important it is in terms of how we consume it within the overall journey. And I think that client confidence outdoor is coming back into the market. We are seeing it here at Mediacom and I’m confident that will continue and we’ll see growth back into that market.

TD: And in your own opinion, what would you see makes outdoor special?

KR: Well, for Canada, where summers are so important to us and thinking about the average life of a Canadian and what that looks like, you know, I think if I if memory still serves me correctly, we are still one of the regions with the most amount of festivals per capita, so you can make reference to as you think about Canada, those events, those cultural events, the need to get out the great restaurants, all of these things require people to get up and get out. With that, you would expect to see a very vibrant outdoor market and partners that are working within that area. And over the years we’ve been able to create some great pieces of creative that match the very robust market that we have here. It’s an interesting market and for those who are concerned or worried, I would only put limited time and effort into that concern. I think it will be OK, once we start getting out again.

TD: You mentioned how technology has helped the team overcome a lot of the difficulties. How you see technology helping innovation and taking the sector forward?

KR: That’s going to happen regardless of whether we want it or not. You’re already seeing changes. It’s amazing how technology is fueling outdoor. The innovation and the recognition of individuals and how they’re interacting with boards, that’s so important as we begin to use the medium and take a look at the various changes that are happening.

TD: But with that innovation, it becomes a more complex area for marketers to wrap their heads around. How do you try and help marketers to fully utilize the medium?

KR: I’m very pragmatic. Gor me, it is still about, first and foremost: how am I consuming it as an individual? Not me as an executive or someone within this industry, or a partner, a media planner – which I am at heart – but really how are you and I digesting what we’re seeing?

We know that the locations and their sites are vast and there's lots of coverage across the country. We know that there are various boards in sizes and shapes, we know that digital continues to have more and more presence so that we can change messaging more frequently. But the most important thing at the end of the day is how you and I are digesting this medium when we're outside.

TD: Outdoor has matured and evolved greatly in the last decade – are there any brands or campaigns that you think are really using it fully?

KR: There are many. One of our partners that we won awards for was Just for Men and Best Beard Care Ever who have been really great partners of ours. And when we think about some of the technology that we were able to use in this campaign, we were able to have men walk across and be recognized from the digital board itself, and begin to monitor and take a look at the various beards and facial hair that they had and share how the brand could help.

For many years where we just had a static board that you digested with your eyes. That has moved on to being able to be recognized by technology with AI, and then you begin to communicate with it and have a dialogue with a particular board. That’s really interesting. Some would say scary, but I would say interesting, because I think technology can be used for good.

TD: You have agreed to be the chair of this year’s The Drum Out of Home Awards - what are you looking forward to seeing from the entries this year?

KR: I’m a lover of the challenger brand so I always have heart for those brands that you don’t expect to be there and kind of surprise and delight you – you wonder where they came from out of nowhere versus some of the Goliaths. I’m always looking for those. And another thing I am always interested in, is some of the insights that come out and are at the very heart of the brands or the campaigns that were developed – what are those human truths? What are those things that are going to make us say, ‘oh’, or those things that really allow us to think and surprise us? I’ve always been a lover of a great insight and I’m really looking forward to hopefully seeing great stuff in the next few weeks and months.

The full interview with Kevin Johnson can be viewed in the video above.

Details on entering The Drum Out of Home Awards in association with Alight Media can be found on the dedicated website.

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