Once a week, not weak. So they say

By Nick Coston, US sales director, Neuron; Art writer

“Oh, now I understand.”

Yesterday afternoon, a beautiful Memorial Day Sunday, I took a ride to my friend Dennis’ house. Dennis, from a small town in North Carolina, is great with all kinds of barbecues and smoked meats. So I went to get some fresh smoked, chopped hogs, some of his world famous Hugh Slough and some homemade mac and cheese that he somehow cooks on a smoker. We have been going through this routine for more than five years during certain holidays and during Super Bowl. Most importantly, it’s an excuse to spend a few hours chatting with my oldest friends in the DC area. She was my housekeeper for a few years between my fourth and fifth marriage. I think so.

I mean, it took a while to recover when Morgan Fairchild left me, so why not reunite with a former sports writer, now a sports novelist / editor, and a serious pit-master? Talk about rubbing salt in my wounds – d’oh! I was jealous of every divorced man. And I gained a lot of weight.

So yesterday when we started the discussion sitting in his living room, well, practically everything, he asked a logical question that I’m sure a lot of people want answers, but are afraid to ask. Remember Dennis knows that I have been working in the outdoor media industry since 2001. He has seen all the mini-billboards in our house, movie transit-shelter posters and a few framed Joe Camel ads. In fact, a very spacious, Joe Camel bus side ad, gold frame, hanging over the cover over my fireplace. It was there until the wife of number six came and immediately dropped it off saying that it was not a good impression for my four year old son to stay with us. He was probably right.

Actually, we were real life “two and a half men”, although I’m not sure who played Charlie Shin.

So it was clear to Dennis that I had worked in the billboard industry. When we sat down yesterday, we started talking about some writing and editorial projects that he is working on. I told her I understood the importance of good editing and she said on the show that she would read my Wednesday piece OOH Today.

Except for one thing that bothered Dennis. The question goes like this: “Then tell me, fat boy”, his 30 plus year nickname for me, “I keep seeing the initials oh, what does it stand for? Are you trying to say the word oh, but don’t know how to spell it?” I thought you would go to college?

And there’s a big problem among my media friends কেন why our industry isn’t growing as it should. Most, even lightly educated people, do not understand what OOH means. Don’t even start me on pDOOH.

About six years ago, at a “OOH” conference, a very smart and well-experienced media owner firmly declared that we dropped the word “billboard company” and went with “out-of-home media”. He felt it explained, in more professional terms, what our medium actually does. It makes sense, without a thing. Everyone and their dog knew what a billboard was, they were around forever. But oh? Why try and change a term that has been successful for so long?

Coca Cola Billboard for short-lived new Coke. (Photo by Getty Images © Todd Gipstein / CORBIS / Corbis)

It was like changing the name of Santa Claus. It’s hard to come up with a real name. New Coke? How long did that last? Just give me a coke. I don’t need a new one.

And Dennis is not the only person I’ve come across whose abbreviated form, OOH, needs to be clarified. Some tell me it’s not a good sign when we need to explain it.

A few years ago when I was trolling to buy outdoor media for new clients, I remember making a phone call to a major, well-known brand company. I got the Chief Marketing Officer on the phone. He said. “How can I help you”. I told him I was a big media buyer for a well-known company. He then asked a logical question, “What kind of media are you buying?”

I thought my chance was here to show how hip and trendy I am.

“I specialize in buying outdoor media. I don’t think you currently use outdoor media and I think it would be a great outlet for your advertising plan. “

A little long pause, then a deep breath. “Boy, what’s the media out of the house?”

“Why didn’t you just say that,” he said with a smile. “Everyone knows what a billboard is, let’s hear what you have to say.” I never used the term outdoor media again.

Now when I travel, and I talk to the person next to me, they say hey what do you do for a living? Because they will never believe that I am a male model, I tell them the truth.

I tell them I work in the billboard industry. You know, big signboards on the side of the highway. These could be the nice little TV sets at the gas pump or the little screens you check out at your grocery store. All these billboards only pass in different forms and with the same information different technologies.

People now understand what I’m saying, they shake their heads and say “how great it must be, I’ve never met anyone in the billboard business” then they start telling me which billboard products they like and which billboard products they like. No.

They do not say that I have never met anyone in the media outside the home. Or OOH. ‘Because no one will understand this word that is not really in our industry. And isn’t that what we’re trying to do, to convert those who don’t currently run their ads into our business to consider using us? How do we grow if we can’t convert dollars from other types of advertising into ours? How can they consider using us if they have to ask “What do you mean, what is the media outside the house? And why are you shouting ohh at all the caps?”

Now I don’t know if I’ve solved the problem of our few years of slow sales growth. If I do, you all owe me a lot of money. But somewhere along the way we have lost a little bit of our identity, something that has made us special. At recent conferences, both World Out of Home and Geopath / OAAA, the term “we’re going through another golden age right now” is being used. It’s as if we’re in a media renaissance outside the home. Okay, maybe we are. But if we are really going through another golden age, why not continue to include the word that has brought us so far, a word that everyone knows when we bring it up that we are talking, the word when we call it cold we always have it Say what

Billboards. A word that everyone understands. It’s a word that comes from everything else in our industry. If this is indeed another “golden age outside the home”, let us not forget where any word has brought us to today and continue to put those words in our dictionary, as well as on our sales pitches.

So next time someone asks me what I should do to make a living, I think I should include both conditions. “I work in outdoor media, you know, billboards.” Explaining to me saves a lot.

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