May 5, 2021

Talon’s Group CEO Barry Cupples Interview on the OOH Reset and the Core Elements of Talon Strategy

Talon group CEO was interviewed by More About Advertising editor Stephen Foster, talking about his experience, how OOH has changed to delivering strong outcomes, AdTech solutions, global growth, the power of OOH creativity, and the value the specialist model still offers clients in OOH.

The interview first appeared across five days in the publication.

Delivering outcomes to give Out of Home a major USP

“I spent 25 years at Omnicom Media Group trying to create an outcomes-based business and that’s still something we’re all working towards – or should be, says Barry Cupples, Group CEO at Talon. I see Out of Home, with its potential combination of data, technology, automation and, of course, people as a way of finally achieving that.” 

In that time Talon has expanded from its UK base to open offices in the US and Germany and form the Plexus network of allied specialists across the world. Talon, founded by former Kinetic CEO Eric Newnham and a small group of key shareholders, is backed by London private equity firm Mayfair Capital Partners. 

At Omnicom, Cupples oversaw a multi-billion dollar client portfolio including some of the world’s biggest media advertisers. “But when we got around to discussing Out of Home I wasn’t in the room. We’d dealt with 97 per cent or so of the budget by then.” 

Now at Talon, he says he’s been surprised by the potential of Out of Home – currently accounting for around seven per cent of the $550bn spent worldwide on advertising – and its ability to bring together the various elements of the media holy grail – outcomes-based planning, execution and payment. 

“All the elements are there, both in terms of the medium and the data available. The world is awash with data, the trouble is we don’t share it. Some clients share it with their agencies but not many – McDonald’s is an honourable exception – and the social media giants have their walled gardens. 

“One of our priorities at Talon is to develop our own, proprietary data sources so we can deliver real outcomes for our clients (who include agency groups Omnicom and Havas and a large number of independent agencies.) 

We’re already a long way down this road and we can already see the investment in technology coming together to deliver amazing outcomes for clients. We know we can drive footfall by incorporating mobile data into Out of Home. It works and we know where it works and how it works. I don’t think any other medium can say that.”

Accelerating AdTech at Talon and in Out of Home? 

“One of the biggest mistakes people make with technology – and AdTech is included here – is thinking it’s a way of doing things better with fewer people. Of course, it can be a way of doing things better but you need more people not less.” 

Independent specialist Out of Home agency Talon has invested heavily in both people and technology. It now employs more than 150 people around the world and has developed three proprietary technologies: Ada, Plato and Atlas. 

Ada is an OOH data management platform, manages and activates billions of device-level audience data points to create new insights about how people behave and how to reach and engage them whilst they’re on the go. Advertisers can use Ada to activate their own customer data or create custom audience segments relevant to their campaigns. The platform enables more data-driven audience targeting and campaign measurement than has hitherto been possible. 

Plato is an automated trading platform, which aggregates all OOH inventory into a single, intuitive campaign planning and delivery system. Talon has also developed and built an automated programmatic OOH buying platform, Atlas, that redefines programmatic OOH and integrates plans on any data-driven audience that can be fully measured and accountable. 

But aren’t these just more additions to the veritable smörgåsbord of AdTech would-be wonders that bombard the business world’s inboxes these days? 

“I take the point; it can be highly confusing. There are clearly more competing systems than anyone could possibly need or deploy. But we know that Ada tracks people accurately while they’re out of home and that’s incredibly valuable for advertisers who want to reach different audiences at, say, different times of the day or launch a specific promotion. 

“By programmatic in Out of home we really mean automation and that’s crucial if we’re to persuade advertisers that OOH is an effective truly global medium. Via digital OOH you can literally reach billions of consumers at the flick of a switch. We demonstrated this with our #SendingLove campaign, created by Grand Visual at the height of the pandemic, which was the world’s biggest user-generated campaign. 

“People all over the world sent their own #SendingLove messages all coordinated and managed from London. It took just three weeks from the idea to execution. Technology works.” 

Developing an international footprint 

How important is it to have an international footprint at a time when a global campaign can be executed at the flick of a switch from one location? 

“We thought long and hard about this and decided, not really surprisingly, that it was. The key for us was to create a network – Plexus – that was agile and effective and not massively time-consuming to manage.” 

“So, on top of our bricks and mortar operations in the UK, US and Germany we created a network of independent Out of Home media specialists with 20 offices covering 75 markets. 

“All have to match our ‘Smarter as Standard’ manifesto, work closely with local media owners and associations as well as contribute to global and international campaigns and share our belief that with intelligent targeting we can deliver clear, consistent communications in data-rich, highly emotive OOH environments. 

“Most importantly, they have to share our core values of speed, simplicity and One of the issues with any international operation is that different markets move at different speeds. Digital Out of Home, for example, is approaching half the world’s OOH spend but it’s much more advanced in some markets – China, northern Europe and the UK especially – than others where paper is still the predominant building block. 

Even the US, where Talon is growing rapidly and has now had a presence for more than two years, lags other markets in certain respects.

“It’s a strange thing to say, but the US Out of Home market is still highly fragmented with digital in some of the big cities but not everywhere. Out of Home’s share in the US is only about four to five per cent of total ad spend, way behind the global average of seven per cent. If OOH is ever to reach the destination of ten per cent of spend, then clearly the US has some catching up to do. 

“We can play our part in that and we are doing it. But it’s quite a long journey. So is international growth as we move out of the pandemic but, obviously, at different speeds in different countries. But that’s why, ultimately, we needed a substantial international network. Out of Home will always be a combination of local and global with expertise on the ground more essential than ever.”

Amplifying and extending the strength of Out of Home creativity 

Creativity is a traditional strength of the Out of Home medium. Posters offer an opportunity to reach masses of people with simple, compelling messages and some of the world’s great artists have turned their hand to them from time to time. As ever, things change in the digital era and some critics have posited that creativity in Out of Home isn’t what it used to be as advertisers and agencies have been sidetracked from simple messages by the technical possibilities of the medium. 

Are awards juries these days awarding creative ideas and executions or technological wizardry? 

“It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask and a challenge for the medium, but creativity has to earn its keep, just like any other aspect of marketing. It needs to show it delivers better outcomes for advertisers. 

“We firmly believe it does and has the evidence to prove it. That’s why high on our list was adding a world-class creative resource and this we’ve done with Grand Visual. As a specialist Out of Home creative production company Grand Visual is a world leader and recently we’ve seen what it can do for many clients and on its own. 

“Our Grand Visual and Plexus #SendingLove campaign brought user-generated messages of hope and support to people around the world in the first awful wave of the pandemic and has justifiably won awards and plaudits. Grand Visual also provided production distribution and translation for the World Out of Home Organization’s #OurSecondChance campaign by New Commercial Arts – another ground-breaking demonstration of the Out of Home’s ability to reach and move people. 

“And there is great traditional and digital creative out there, examples which clearly work in every sense including driving earned outcomes for the client. Our special-build poster for the BBC’s ‘Dracula,’ showing the Count being revealed as night falls, sparked 40 shared articles online and had seven million views on social media. 

“For Warner Brothers we projected onto the iconic Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, the world’s tallest building, for an appropriately epic campaign for Godzilla vs Kong. The poster was 828 metres high, unmissable you might say. 

“Creativity is alive and well and living Out of Home.”

Reinforcing the value of the specialist model in Out of Home 

“Our primary job is to be a flag bearer for our clients. It’s easy to forget in this business that they’re the important element. 

“But in the sense that we’ve invested heavily in people, systems and technology to try to make the Out of Home medium work harder and more effectively, then I suppose we are flag bearers to an extent. The fact that we’re independent has something to do with it. Obviously, some of the big ad holding companies have their own OOH media specialists, but we represent Omnicom and Havas among many others and so we have to stay ahead of the game to continue in that role as an independent. We can’t rest on our laurels, we have to be pioneers. And, as ever, where someone leads others will follow. 

“As far as the ad industry in a wider sense is concerned, I think OOH is showing the way in many respects, not least connecting with mobile and showing the benefits of automation. Automation is really the key to programmatic, it’s the ability to run a global campaign at the flick of a switch which is what clients in any medium actually want most. 

“And we have the proprietary technology now to run omnichannel campaigns, if that’s what clients want us to do. We can reach audiences and customers, and guard their privacy, across a wide range of touchpoints. I don’t think as many clients are that OOH can do this – and that these solutions can be applied to other media – as, maybe, they should be. 

“But I have no idea if this will take Talon in new directions, independently or with a partner. Forecasting what’s coming is pretty difficult obviously as we come out of the pandemic. Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the summer.

“We’re happy with where we currently are and we think we’re doing a good job for the OOH medium, not just in terms of ‘Smarter as Standard’ media planning and buying (which is what we set out to do) but also in trying to push the boundaries of OOH creativity. Our work with BBC Creative (above), for example, consistently does that. 

“But you can never stand still, and we wouldn’t want to!”

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