EYE REPORTER WITH RICK ROBINSON
EYE Reporter asked Billups Partner/Chief Strategy Officer Rick Robinson about his passion outside the office, the state of the out of home industry and how technology is affecting change. A Member of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) Hall of Fame, Rick Robinson is a life-long Out-of-Home (OOH) Media advocate. He’s also recognized as a public speaker, author and sculptor.
Rick thinks it’s a wonderful thing to wake up at the crack of dawn to watch a new client’s copy get installed in a dynamite location. His 30 years in the business have been driven by passion across multiple disciplines.
He got his start in 1987 as a local salesperson for Ackerley Airport Advertising in Central California, moving on to Business Development Manager at Gannett Outdoor SF & LA, and gaining industry notoriety as National Creative Director for Outdoor Systems in the late ‘90’s. Rick jumped to the agency side in the new millennium opening up MacDonald Media’s LA office in 2001 and building its West Coast roster to $30MM in annual billing over the next 13 years. Seeking new challenges Rick took on a partnership with Billups in March of 2014, now the largest independent OOH Media agency in the country. Portland-based Billups plans and buys OOH Media for ABC, Lyft, Brand Jordan and over 250 other agencies and brands.
Rick’s current role is that of Partner/Chief Strategy Officer. Rick’s industry achievements include helping launch the now renowned Tall Walls on The Sunset Strip, serving as a two time OBIE Judge, Founding Chairman of the OAAA Creative Committee, Creative Director for the award winning “Big Boy” Power 106 Radio campaign, authoring the OAAA-published book “The People’s Space”,
Co-Chair for the 2013 OAAA National Convention in Los Angeles and most recently, the recipient of one of the industry’s highest honors, the OAAA 2017 L. Ray Vahue Marketing Award of Merit.
Rick has lectured at Universities and Ad Clubs all over the U.S., including several stops in Latin America. He has also been featured on everything from The History Channel, CNN, USA Today, Ad Age and Adweek to Juxtapose, Flavorpill, Coagula Art Journal, Art Voices, Fabrik, and PBS Television.
Rick’s volunteer work includes the role of Board Advisor (Former President) for Art Share LA (www.artsharela.org).
He’s also a steel sculptor in his free time (www.primitviepop.net) and blows of steam racing stock cars with his 80 year old
father in Northern California.
Rick is bullish on OOH’s future and thinks the greatest OOH media efforts result from tech, creative and media working together. He feels our primary responsibility as OOH advertisers is to serve The People’s Space.
You are in the studio, welding tourch in hand and an unlimited supply of iron and time. You are there to create something completely for you. What do you create and why?
Currently I’m working on a new show inspired by native American petroglyphs. This spring my wife and I hiked the La Cieneguilla site near Santa Fe, NM https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/la-cieneguilla-petroglyph-site We wandered along the ridge for hours uncovering etchings dating back centuries. I was in my element, elevated and hyper-active while bearing witness to what are essentially ancient billboards. I’m forever captivated by our persistent, innate human desire to mark space. I believe the instinct that drove our ancestors to mark these rocks is the same one that drives big brands to invest in OOH.
I will have interpreted and manifested the La Cieneguilla experience into a collection of steel sculptures by this spring. I usually create one new body of work a year. http://primitivepop.net/ See two photos – Petroglyph etchings and an example of my work currently installed in Joshua Tree. The petroglyph shapes will end up as similar steel sculptures.
You can go anywhere in the world to see a single piece of art.
Where do you go, what do you see and why?
Rothko’s Chapel in Houston, TX. The ruthless discipline of it. The uncompromising confidence of Rothko’s work basically dared me into having the courage to find my own voice as an artist. http://www.rothkochapel.org/
Guernica by Picasso. The Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. I’ve admired the image in books for years yet never seen it in person. The politics behind it make it historically significant. Picasso was at a crossroads in his career when he made the piece. It was a struggle and a breakthrough. There’s an unrelenting grit and ferocity in the composition. You can feel him. https://www.pablopicasso.org/guernica.jsp
You have a private chef who is making you whatever you want for dinner, what do you order?
I would leave it up to the chef but with two conditions: Something I can eat with my hands (No utensils).
And something exotic and unusual.
What is the last out-of-home ad you saw that made you either
go do something (make a purchase, take a trip, see a show, etc.) or stop and say “WOW great execution”?
The Deadpool2 campaign killed me. I talked about it in my movie column for the OAAA. A ridiculous amount of humor and confidence in it. Also, the recent ABC effort for “A Million Little Things”. I think there were over 100 unique headlines in the teasers. It was very simple, yet very human, vulnerable, creating an easy and friendly dialogue with the viewers on the streets. The new Apple “Behind the Mac” campaign gets you thinking and makes it personal. The Medmen campaign created intrigue and elevated the Cannabis segment.
As you look across the out-of-home media landscape,
what shifts are happening in 2018 that are having the largest positive impact on our industry?
Our collective progress towards ROI/Attribution. The more we can “prove it” the more business growth we will earn. Period.
The other piece that fascinates me is the evolution of OOH as a public utility. The more we provide – extra media space, services to the public (wifi), shared revenue for public works – the more secure our future.
We are in the early stages of technology shift across our industry. From digital to mobile and measurement to AR and VR. What technology shift do you predict will have the biggest positive impact on the industry?
Multi-screen omni presence. As content merges real-time with place we’ll see a transfer of ownership from “my screen” to a shared sense of participation on all screens. What we do with it and what it means to OOH is yet unknown. One thing I am sure of is that we will have a significant role in that collective narrative.
As you look at how 2018 is shaping up, the OOH industry is reporting continued single digit growth but individual operators report mixed results. What trends are you seeing in 2018 that you believe offer the biggest opportunity for OOH media operators?
You’re right it is mixed. We’re growing as a whole, which is very encouraging, yet at a slower pace than GDP. More troubling is that our growth seems bouyed mostly by an increase in DOOH supply. While a strong contingent of major tech brands invest favorably in OOH there’s still a tepid overall commitment to our medium by the top 200 brands. This is an institutional problem and will require a focused, sustained and organized industry effort to change the sentiment.
Were will we see growth near term? E-comm is a hot spot of promise. Especially app-driven offerings funded at the series “B” and “C” levels. OOH is now the brick and mortar for e-comm!!
As you speak to your clients, are there any trends you are seeing in the way they are using out of home media vs. a few years ago?
OOH has become hyper-tactical. From street corners to hipster neighborhoods, to city-wide showings, regions, states or national buys – OOH plans are most often constructed bottom up from the tactical level. A fresh and more robust understanding of audience movement via mobile data is driving this. It’s a good thing as long as the mass power of the medium isn’t lost along the way. While we’re now much better at informing specific moments of geography our next challenge is to re-prove the power of OOH en masse.
Measurement continues to be a primary topic and focus. The ability to buy OOH media by audience and impressions is fast becoming reality. Once this is fully in place, do you believe we will see growth specifically attributable to that capability?
I’m hopeful. Perhaps more so from digital budgets as the DOOH pathway reveals itself. OOH budgets are still most often initiated with a notion of place as the driver. We’ll need to work through the ongoing didactic of “real estate” vs. “audience.” It’s interesting that it remains somewhat of a zero sum game. There’s a sentiment that OOH buys have to be either all about audience or all about real estate. I’m optimistic that soon we’ll find our way to convincingly demonstrate how a mix is the best outcome. To get there we have more work to do collectively, ultimately setting benchmarks and sharing learnings as we master the OOH matrix.
Out of home media has always been a one-to-many medium.
Metrics and technology are enabling more of a one-to-few or
even one-to-one capability. Do you believe this more targeted approach is the right way to use out-of-home and why?
As an industry we have a lingering “Minority Report” fetish. It’s a sexy concept. The notion of that type of immediacy feeds our need to feel current and ahead of the technology curve. Nonetheless, I’m beginning to understand that people might not want that kind of experience while they are out in public. To date our initial efforts to engage consumers “one-to-one” via face recognition, adjacent mobile data feeds or other methods have not sustained ongoing investments. Brands seem to try it once as an experiment and then move on. It’s truly a fascinating premise and remains terribly compelling on the surface. Still, frustratingly, there’s something missing in the execution we haven’t yet unraveled.
I do think we should remember that OOH is very intimate for the individual viewer of each message and already consumed as a “one-to-one” experience. I’ll agree the messenger most definitely communicates in a one-to-many fashion yet I’ll argue the recipient takes it all in as a one-to-one moment - very personal and private yet in a public forum. The construct is akin to the sense of privacy we might feel while seated at a small table when working on our laptop in a crowded coffee shop.
There are some amazing digital place based networks enabling brands to engage consumers throughout their day at the movies, airport, gym, gas station, shopping mall, in an elevator, a taxi, and out and about the streets of the city.
What are a couple factors that make a digital network
Viewing experience. If it’s a network is the consumer experience consistent from venue to venue? The network must show up in a similarly compelling fashion across the total inventory footprint. There’s got to be moments of ownership we can bank on at
More exciting, and more powerful, are the dramatic digital screens that dominate various public dwell-time spaces, in particular in airports, train stations, stadiums and some malls. The opportunity is epic for DOOH in stand-by, walk-by intercept points. For us to exploit it we must also deliver an epic visual experience. Key benchmark - Does the DOOH presence add to its environment?
There is a big shift to digitize static locations. Do you see a place for static in the future? Explain?
I’m actually much more intrigued by the notion of how digital and static work together. I love the brand power of owning real estate, staking a claim to pieces of a city, and then adding top spin to that static layer of bedrock with super-smart, highly-targeted DOOH. The combination of the two is significantly more compelling and complimentary than it is exclusive.
But to answer the question. Yes. 100%. I see a place for static in the future. In fact it’s weird to me that we get caught up with this question. Not EVERY space warrants a digital hardware solution. It will be helpful for us going forward to keep our perspective and maintain a steady, intentional level of conversion.
As you advise your clients on the role of out of home in their media mix, what are a couple of the key benefits you push that seem to resignate well with clients?
ROI/Attribution is now possible. OOH delivers proof of life. OOH is visceral, real, creates a sense of place and exploits context. Humans are visual by nature, humans are mostly out of their house, mobile data informs smarter panning, the the public loves utility – time, fun or money – and now! OOH amplifies digital media, delivers BIG impressions and is hyper-targetable. OOH is the catalyst to creating a dialogue on the streets; size matters, creative impact matters, visual storytelling earns sharable moments. OOH has a right, a place and a purpose. OOH produces street equity. It’s the foundational root to the media tree.
If you were advising an out-of-home media company givin the dynamic shifts happening in the industry today, what are the top 2-3 considerations you would recommend that media company pay attention to as they try to position themselves for the future?
o Invest ROI/Attribution – Prove it!!
o The messenger matters – build beautiful structures (make posters look like Porsches)
o Find a way to serve the public as a utility – add value to your communities, make yourselves essential
o Execute flawlessly – Invest in the necessary resources to do so. It will pay off in the end.
o Take AMAZING photos – They allow all of your hard work to finish strong and they are a terrific salesperson
o Little things matter – Service clients like you are the Four Seasons
o Fight for your right to build, your right to exist – yet seek fairness and balance
o Remember you are the visual voice of commerce – you play a key role in defining a city. You are very important!!