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10 years of The Drum OOH Awards: Alight Media CEO on what’s next for the medium

Matthew Dearden, chief executive, Alight Media

Out of home advertising (OOH) can be traced back as far as the ancient Egyptians – and with new innovations, digital transformation and unrivalled contextual targeting opportunities, it is a more relevant and effective a medium than ever.

With The Drum Awards for Out of Home celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2021, The Drum catches up with Matthew Dearden, chief executive officer of Alight Media, to reflect on the past decade of OOH and get a glimpse into what’s next for OOH.

Looking back over the past 10 years, what’s changed; how has the medium developed?

I joined the OOH industry just over 10 years ago, and it’s been a really inspiring phase of my career having led Clear Channel’s business in the UK and Europe and especially now in my current role as chief executive officer and co-founder of Alight Media, the UK’s fastest growing OOH company.

The huge growth of digital OOH has undoubtedly been the major development for our industry, combining the possibility for brands to advertise in the heart of communities with the ability to be one of the most targeted forms of advertising available.

As we have also become more reliant on our mobile phones over the last 10 years, more decisions than ever are made on the move, enabling OOH to engage people in a highly absorbent state of mind and encourage them to take action.

The creative impact of OOH has also always invigorated our talented industry and looking back at The Drum’s Grand Prix winners over the last 10 years is a great way to track the development of our medium.

What’s the biggest impact the last 18 months specifically (with global lockdowns) has had on the OOH industry; and how has the industry reacted?

OOH was one of hardest hit media, but the industry has not only survived but started to thrive this year. OOH is back, people are back, advertisers are back and the ad forecasts for 2021 and 2022 are very strong.

As an industry we’ve collaborated more than ever before and continued to invest in infrastructure and technology. We’ve had to focus even more on what we do best to help advertisers connect with audiences and share how OOH can help build brands, change minds and drive sales.

From an Alight Media perspective, in just over two years since our launch and during the toughest period in our industry, we have become the UK’s fastest growing media owner with 97% of our sites being installed after January 2020. We have seen x10 growth in audience impressions and we launched the UK’s 1st D6 4k roadside network. We already have digital billboards in the most towns and will soon become the biggest provider of D48s across the country.

Our goal has remained constant – to help advertisers reach people in underserved areas with the highest quality sites and screens. And we have big ambitions for the future.

What do you think is the most exciting opportunity within OOH today?

The most exciting opportunity in OOH today is for our advertisers. As a former client I believe there’s never been a better time for advertisers to maximize the power of OOH. They get to enjoy the very best of OOH, on their terms.

As a ‘digital first’ approach to OOH evolves and programmatic OOH develops, the medium will offer greater transparency, flexibility, creativity and efficiency for advertisers. This in turn will drive impact and improve marketing return-on-investment (ROI).

  • Transparency because of net pricing and private marketplace agreements that can be seen by participants.

  • Flexibility because planning and buying platforms have more capability than ever before - to deliver solutions by time, location, impressions, plays, targeting or a combination of.

  • Creativity because this can play out in real time; set goals based on conditions that benefit brands and their activation goals and react in real time.

  • Efficiency because the standard 2 week 1 in 6 model can be replaced with a host of different targeted solutions that best serve the brief.

For this vision to be achieved, media owners have to be willing and able to deliver it; we are.

How can marketers unlock value from OOH as they plan towards the future?

Our medium needs to change a long-standing trading legacy of being bought only by panel and in-charge. Digital out of home (DOOH) doesn’t have to be one size fits all for advertisers, it can offer so much more through the use of data and optimized planning and buying.

We are excited about our ability to offer advertisers more choice, more flexibility, more targeting – more of what matters to them for their brief. It is ultimately all about choice and efficiency.

We believe that there are many other ways to plan a campaign. We encourage plans that include time and location, impressions or plays, days or day parts, objectives such as audience or even triggers from events or data.

Moving away from purely time- and location-based solutions will enable a greater variety of campaigns and attract new advertisers to OOH.

And finally, as our partner for The Drum Awards for Out of Home 2021, what will you be hoping to see from the winners?

This will be our second year as headline partner of The Drum OOH Awards and I’ve always been impressed by the breadth of entries and categories from across the world. I’m looking forward to seeing brilliant creative, some inspiring examples of how the use of data is evolving our medium and hoping to see another pioneering Grand Prix winner that really pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in OOH.

The Drum Awards for Out of Home 2021 winners were announced on November 24 during a live broadcast from The Drum Labs. For more on the winners, visit here.

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