How to modernize your static OOH business

Rob Côté | September 19, 2019

At a glance, static billboards look the same today as they have for decades. In reality, though, a lot of little updates have driven big improvements to how the billboard game is played. A little thought and investment can upgrade everything from the physical infrastructure of billboards to the systems that run sales and operations for outdoor advertising companies and unlock new value for network owners.

Want to take the step of modernizing a static out-of-home business? Here’s what you need to do.

Upgrade your sales and deployment processes

As a piece of general-purpose, customizable office software, we have nothing against Microsoft Excel. As the backbone of a modern out-of-home advertising business, it leaves a lot to be desired. Yet still today, many businesses operating in the OOH space rely on many lengthy and complex spreadsheets to manage everything from sales to installation across billboard networks of all sizes.

Honestly, this isn’t a bad setup for small companies only managing a couple of boards, but graduate to the point where you have several boards and the difficulty compounds. Suddenly, you have to juggle several contracts, several design and print jobs, several posting and maintenance schedules. With a jumbled mess of spreadsheet cells as the main tool for dealing with these demands, it’s likely that details will be missed, mistakes will be made, and the business will lose money.

There’s a better way. Dedicated platforms for out-of-home business management exist, and can help to streamline pretty well everything that goes into running an OOH business. With the Ayuda platform, for example, users can access real-time inventory information and pricing details to generate proposals and complete sales with just a couple of clicks. In response, printing schedules and work orders are automatically generated and entered into the business’ calendar, synchronized to the field teams’ installation schedules. And when there’s an update to be made, it’s a simple task to find the existing project and insert the new creative, change the schedule, or make whatever other alteration needs to be done.

Three workers on top of a billboard, about to unfurl a poster that is due to be posted

From sales to posting, all an OOH business’ tasks can be managed through a single, integrated platform

Having this kind of convenience and synchronization reduces the mental load of completing a task, not to mention speeds it up significantly as compared with manually finding and entering information in several different locations. For medium and large OOH businesses looking to modernize their business, adopting this sort of platform is likely the single most impactful step that can be made.

Introduce proof of posting to meet new buyer demands

In the world of traditional digital advertising (online, mobile, etc.), it’s a given that a buyer can see proof that an ad they paid for went up in the place it was supposed to at the time it was supposed to. The same is true in the digital out-of-home space. For static OOH, however, the picture is often murkier, as there’s no automatic, auditable process possible for helping buyers see that purchases are getting displayed as they should be.

That doesn’t mean OOH operators can’t do their best to get a little closer. Some slick solutions exist to replicate the proof-of-play experience in the static world, with so-called “proof of posting” information tailored to the specifics of the outdoor industry.

Today, leading proof of posting solutions tend to work as follows: the field team responsible for posting the billboard will use a smartphone with a specialty app to snap a picture of the newly installed media. The photo serves as visual proof that the media was posted, and the app can also tag the photo with other useful information, most notably:

  • The geographic coordinates of where the photo was taken
  • The date and time that the photo was taken

With this information synced up automatically with the campaign and work order in the OOH company’s system, it becomes a simple thing to provide proof of posting to the advertiser whenever they would like to see it. This type of feature isn’t especially common in the industry, so adopting it can help a static OOH business stand out as especially reliable to potential buyers. Particularly for buyers accustomed to buying digital advertising, it’s the kind of thing that can be a big selling point.

Keep all your operations well coordinated

One of the biggest challenges in the static OOH space is the complexity behind getting a submitted campaign delivered. With billboards, for instance, creative needs to be translated into physical media, which often must then be warehoused (“lean” or “just in time” manufacturing can only go so far), before then being picked up, driven over to the correct location, and then installed. With each step comes an additional risk of process breakdown, and that’s only for a basic campaign. What about those campaigns where three billboards that stand near to each other need to display three images in a particular sequence?

And that’s to say nothing of more mundane concerns, like optimizing the route that a team of installers takes to get from site to site in a given day, which can also be tricky things to figure out.

Dedicated operations tools made for the OOH space can make a world of difference, helping to synchronize information and schedules so that all people and teams involved in getting an ad up on a billboard always know the current status of a project and what is meant to come next. The best tools will cover campaigns every step of the way, letting users know when an ad is off getting printed, when it is in storage, when it is due to be picked up, when it has been posted, and when it is supposed to be taken down.

A man in a warehouse reviewing an order on his tablet

Dedicated operations tools can help OOH businesses coordinate the many steps involved in getting OOH media up.

Here again, an Excel spreadsheet or five can technically get the job done. However, given the number of steps and the fact that they all repeat across every board in a network, business owners are likely to enjoy much more peace of mind (and likely some substantial increases in operational efficiency) by going with a dedicated tool.

Upgrade & monitor your static assets

One of the most visible ways to modernize your static OOH is to make sure your locations look great. Visibly aged or rundown installations, as well as installations that are difficult to see, are less appealing to audiences and buyers alike. A little investment can go a long way toward fixing the problem.

The precise nature of possible upgrades will of course depend on what existing infrastructure is present at a given installation. Some likely possibilities include:

Lighting

Not all lights are made equal, and the quality of a billboard’s illumination can have a big impact on how well received its ads will be.

When upgrading lighting, special attention should be paid to:

  • Evenness: Lighting should be as even as possible so viewers enjoy the full colouring and detail of posted images
  • Colour temperature: Cool lighting is generally best for maximizing the visibility of outdoor media. That means lighting tending more toward blue and white end of the spectrum.
A row of lightbulbs demonstrating different colour temperatures. The bulbs are lined up from warmest (red/orange) at the left to coolest (blue/white) at the right

Light tending toward a white/blue colour temperature is generally best for OOH advertising

Framing

  • Materials: Steel or other metals tend to look the most modern and professional, though they could run close to twice the cost of wood, so budget and the location in which a piece of media will be kept should guide your decision here. Indoors, durable plastic can also be a good choice.
  • Branding: It’s also advisable to find places on your structure – typically on the bottom of the frame – to place a visible (but not distracting) logo, to ensure passers-by who are interested in renting space will know who your assets belong to.
The bare metal structure of an empty billboard

Metal billboard structures tend to look the most modern and high-end

Digitizing

Another option that many companies are choosing is to shift to digital in order to upgrade their offerings. Though this won’t inherently solve issues relating to the structure on which the screen will need to be mounted, you’ll get the best lighting capabilities here. The images with digital can be remarkably bright and colourful. It’s a bigger investment, but one that does come with big benefits in targeting media, reducing operational costs, and more.

Tracking your upgrades & repairs

Modifications to the physical structure of OOH installations are inevitable. Leaving aside upgrades, there is still maintenance work due to age, wear and tear, accidental damage, and even intentional sabotage that will need to be completed over the course of an installation’s life.

It’s important to keep track of these kinds of modifications, but as with all things in business, it happens too often that records get outdated, messy, and difficult to read. For business owners looking to get the whole history of their locations, or even to create reliable projections of when installations will need maintenance, simply tracking receipts or using a spreadsheet won’t suffice.

Instead, OOH businesses should centralize upgrade and repair details in a dedicated enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform. By associating descriptions, costs, and dates of repairs and upgrades with a given installation, business owners can easily look back and get a historical view of the material costs of their OOH business. It’s the best way to understand these sorts of costs, all contained within the same software the business uses to manage its assets anyway.

A group of business people gathered for a discussion around a table

A dedicated OOH ERP is the best way to track repair and upgrade costs

Invest in sustainability

An unfortunate truth of the static OOH space is that most businesses are not exactly environmentally friendly. Billboards run through significant amounts of material to put up advertising, not to mention the carbon emissions that arise from driving to and from installation and removal jobs when it comes time to change media.

Among today’s increasingly environmentally conscious buyers, this is, at best, not ideal. Consumer research by Futerra found that 88% of consumers want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly in daily life. That’s going to leak over into the business sphere, and influence the decisions buyers make as to which outdoor advertising companies to work with.

Choosing to invest in more sustainable practices can give modern OOH businesses a good additional selling point with many of today’s buyers, but it can also lead to some substantial monetary savings over time. A report from the Business and Sustainable Development Commission estimates that businesses worldwide could realize $12 trillion in savings by 2030 by adopting measures that improve sustainability by reducing carbon consumption.

For static OOH business owners who are so inclined, there are many opportunities to make changes toward more sustainable business practices. Some examples include:

  • Donating old billboards to charities or local businesses that can repurpose polyvinyl
  • Installing recyclable polyethylene billboards instead of polyvinyl billboards
  • Replacing fluorescent lighting with LEDs
  • Installing solar-powered lighting
  • Investing in electric or hybrid vehicles for field teams
  • Tracking & attempting to reduce energy consumption on an ongoing basis

As the global environmental movement continues gathering momentum over the next few years, it’s likely that these kinds of measures will become more desirable among buyers looking to minimize the impact of their advertising activity. Taking the time to invest in sustainability now could pay off big down the road.

Analyze expenses with a dedicated OOH ERP

Optimizing an out-of-home business can be a complicated affair of balancing revenues against costs for, potentially, a large number of locations. This can make it unnecessarily difficult to get an accurate reading of just how healthy any given location is, which regions might be ripe for expansion, and which locations it might be good to retire.

It needn’t be so difficult. The solution is to adopt an OOH ERP that lets you track costs for each individual location and compare that with incoming revenue.

A business team gathered for a meeting

An OOH ERP can provide useful data for optimizing a business

With such a system in place, it becomes much easier to get an accurate accounting of the value of your assets. You might uncover that some locations wind up requiring far too much maintenance to be worth operating over the long haul, or that revenue in a particular region justifies rapid expansion to take advantage of a surprisingly lucrative market. This type of tool can also be hugely valuable in tracking ongoing expenses, like energy costs, and using that information to help gauge the success of sustainability or other initiatives.

Do you want to modernize your static OOH business?

Learn how the Ayuda platform can help