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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Outdoor--The Last Mass Medium

Every two years, legendary investor Warren Buffett and his Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger, invite a select group of financiers and business executives to a retreat to discuss the economy and value investing. At every meeting over the last couple of decades he also has an exercise that he does with all participants. A recent book on Buffett describes it as follows: "Buffett posed the Desert Island Challenge. If you were stranded on a desert island for ten years, he asked, in which stock would you invest in."

"The trick was to find a company with the strongest franchise, one least subject to the corroding forces of competition and time--Munger's idea of a great business." (Quotes from page 331 of "The Snowball--Warren Buffett and the Business of Life" by Alice Schroeder, Bantam Dell, 2008. Highly recommended!)

Taking a hint from the great Buffett, I went to my panel across the nation and asked the Don Cole version of the Desert Island Challenge. If you were planning a national media campaign for a well heeled advertiser, what medium do you think would be least effected by all the changes going on in the media envirionment in the next 10 years?

( A quick aside about my panel. They are a group of approximately 20 professionals whom I value and trust. Many are sales people across different media, a few at agencies and buying services and a couple of highly seasoned media researchers. There is signficant geographic dispersion to the panel as well. Every month or so, I throw out a question as I am preparing a post. All replies are treated with strict confidence and NO ONE will ever have his/her name mentioned.)

Response to the Desert Island Challenge was excellent. What was particularly gratifying is that the panel members did not gravitate to the medium that they are selling or where they place most of their dollars in the case of agency/buying service players.

There was a brief but intriquing response that listed college sports as a stable player over the next decade. The reasons were not media driven but more sociological in nature as the panelist wrote of its role in many US households.

But the dominant response and the one I also chose was Outdoor. Think about it for a moment. It has been very stable for generations and only now is getting interesting with the emergence of digital boards in many locations. One panelist who is even greener than I environmentally said "I would love to see the outdoor space shared with something useful, like attaching solar panels or wind turbines to the boards." An excellent idea to blunt criticism if localities decide that outdoor is environmentally insensitive.

To me, from a media perspective, Outdoor should change the least for one simple reason--it is the last mass medium. With fragmentation effecting everything else, Outdoor is the classic "old man river" medium in that it just keeps rolling along!

Am I saying that outdoor should become the dominant player in most media plans? Of course not. It will still likely be a support medium in many instances. But it will be able to deliver an audience that is larger and broader based than anything else as the years roll by. If you have a simple message, it should probably play a larger role going forward in many plans than it does today.

About two years ago, a GSM at a large market TV station invited me to give my media forecast presentation that looks five years ahead to his sales staff and other station personnel. He was fearless as my comments about spot TV were very blunt and he was not the least bit defensive. Afterwards, his two best salespeople came up to me, thanked me, and asked if they should look for a job selling outdoor. Half seriously, I said that they might want to consider it. Today, I would say definitely.

If you would like to connect Don Cole directly, e-mail him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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