The COOH (Chief of Out of Home): An interview with Nancy Fletcher
“Let’s put things in perspective,” said Nancy Fletcher, President and CEO of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA). “When I entered the out of home industry, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States and Sony had just introduced the Walkman. Out of home companies were mostly family-owned and tobacco was the most lucrative advertising category. In 1978, total out of home revenue was $700 million in America. Today, it is $6.7 billion.”
To say that times have changed for the OOH industry would be an understatement and there’s no better person to explain this positive transition than Nancy, an accomplished and inspiring leader who has held her position at the OAAA for over twenty years. Armed with a law degree, Nancy was initially recruited by a billboard company to work in local government affairs and she would eventually work with Congress on outdoor advertising laws. “I will never forget my drive to that first interview,” stated Nancy. “I saw billboards in a completely different way that has remained until this day.” When the company changed hands in 1984, Nancy became the President and General Manager of its Minneapolis-Saint Paul office. “There’s no job in America more fun than being the head of an OOH media company,” laughed Nancy.
A leader of the third largest out-of-home media company in the US at the time, Nancy became very involved in OAAA activities and was elected as Chair when its president stepped down. A recruitment firm was hired to find a new head of staff and after several months searching for external candidates, Nancy was offered the position. Her initial reaction was to stay in Minnesota but after a discussion with her husband about a trial move to DC, she has yet to leave.
Two decades is a lot of time to spend in a position, yet the organization and OOH industry have given Nancy experiences she will treasure for the rest of her life (like meeting Elizabeth Taylor in 1993 when the OAAA executed a free public service campaign for AIDS awareness and spending the evening at a dinner for 48 at the White House seated next to President George W Bush). She is constantly surrounded by amazing people, product innovation and the advances of a medium that serves as an economic catalyst.
That’s not to say Nancy hasn’t dealt with her fair share of challenges, starting the day she was elected as OAAA Chair in June 1991, when the OAAA was celebrating its centennial convention in Washington DC and the US Senate was voting on whether or not to ban billboards – needless to say the 60 to 39 vote worked in the OOH industry’s favour. Ten years later, the OAAA national convention of 1,000 attendees was held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square on September 11. Member reactions following the sad occurrence were honourable, in that no refunds were requested and an international “United We Stand” OOH campaign was implemented within days. The recent recession also posed a threat to the OOH industry, causing it to be down by 15% in 2009. OAAA members remained true to the organization, however, and through hard work the industry has now seen three years of consecutive growth.
“OOH is full of innovative and promising opportunities, and I cherish my involvement every day,” said Nancy warmly after explaining the OAAA’s recent OOH repositioning initiative that took two years and $1 million to complete. The analysis resulted in a move by media companies to reposition their strategies for more effective OOH communication. “OOH is putting innovation to work in all parts of its business to help advertisers take their message further.”
“OOH has become a more relevant part of consumers’ lives in the way it works to connect advertisers and potential customers. Moreover, digital out of home is a major factor in the industry’s growth because this technology allows for greater interactivity and connectivity with consumers.” Speaking of connecting with people, Nancy noted that commercial advertising is just one part of the picture. “We’ve only begun to see the power of this medium in terms of public service,” she said. “An American Amber Alert program has been launched so that abducted children may gain visibility and a partnership with the FBI has already resulted in the arrest of more than 50 fugitives.”
If length of service isn’t proof enough of Nancy’s strong passion for and belief in the OOH industry, a quick chat will certainly do the trick. At the end of our call, I asked Nancy for guidance that she would give to D(OOH) newcomers and her answer was delivered in the quick and assured manner that the “COOH” possessed throughout our conversation. “You’re in the right place. This is a great industry with some of the most exciting, most professional companies in the world. Grab the industry by the horns, run with it, ask for more… and then do more than what’s expected.”
Nancy Fletcher was elected President & CEO of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) in 1992 and is responsible for advancing the legislative, marketing, and product improvement goals for the out of home advertising industry in the U.S. The 122-year-old trade association consists of nearly 800 member companies representing more than 90% of U.S. out of home advertising revenues.
Ms. Fletcher is an attorney and industry authority, with 35 years of experience in out of home advertising. Before joining the OAAA, Ms. Fletcher served as an officer for Patrick Media Group, the largest out of home media company in the U.S. at that time. She concurrently was elected Chair of the Board of Directors for the OAAA. From 1978 to 1991, Ms. Fletcher worked for Naegele Outdoor Advertising and parent company Major Media serving in various positions including General Counsel and later as President & General Manager of the Minneapolis-St Paul market.
Currently, Ms. Fletcher serves on the Board of Directors of the OAAA, the Ad Council, the Traffic Audit Bureau, and Teach for America. She is the former Board chair for National Cathedral School and President of the Fletcher Family Foundation.
She is a past governance board member of the American Advertising Federation, Northwestern National Life Insurance Company, Abbott Northwestern Hospital, William Mitchell College of Law, the United Way, the Guthrie Theater, the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Airport Foundation, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, and Washington National Cathedral.
Ms. Fletcher lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Ron. She is the mother of Kate who is finishing law school this year at Georgetown University and the step-mother of three adult children living in Minneapolis and Chicago.
Today, Ms. Fletcher is excited about the prospects for out of home as the next chapter unfolds.
Written by Stephanie Gutnik.