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‘Advertisers get to enjoy the best of OOH today’

By Rajiv Raghunath - August 09, 2023

Matthew Dearden, CEO & Co-Founder of Alight Media, one of the fastest growing OOH media owning companies in the UK, talks about the company's digital-first approach, people-first outlook, and customer-centricity in an interview with Rajiv Raghunath.

Matthew DeardenWhat was the inspiration for starting Alight Media, and what factors have contributed to your business growth?

The vision when founding Alight was to grow the OOH market by focusing on developing inclusive out-of-home, built on positive connections for advertisers. For us this meant fostering a digital-first mentality and nurturing strong partnerships with communities to deliver new audiences. 

We knew we could bring something new to the UK market and cared deeply about the work we do and the people we do it with. We both had a strong background in OOH, Dave Huckerby, my co-founder, had more than 30 years’ experience, especially working with landlords and partners. I had direct experience of what advertisers needed, having worked client-side in senior marketing and commercial roles at British Telecom, Telewest Broadband and Procter & Gamble, before becoming President of Clear Channel Europe, one of the biggest OOH companies in the world. 

At the start, Alight Media was a self-funded, bootstrap operation – we had to grow by being hands on across everything. Every penny you spend is your own and you're raising your own invoices while finding support on sites such as PeoplePerHour. It was a very different experience for us having worked in large corporations. 

An OOH start-up also involves building complex infrastructure, so gaining traction and securing the right investment at the right time was critical to our growth. What we couldn't predict was a global pandemic stopping us from selling out-of-home when we were told to stay in.

Personally leading big fundraises through the pandemic was challenging but exhilarating and successful, as we raised significant investment. We are still well-funded and supported by a highly ambitious board. Our growth has been both organic and through acquisition, which has seen us become the fastest growing UK out-of-home media owner.

What impact have you had on the market?

Our strategy of developing inclusive OOH across the UK, not just London and major cities, has seen our national audience reach exceed 50% of all adults. In the four largest cities outside London (Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow), our reach jumps to more than 80% of all adults.

These numbers from the latest Route release (the UK’s Joint Industry Currency providing the out-of-home medium with audience data), also reveal that our network now reaches 30.8m people every month, becoming the market leader for total D48 audience reach in the UK. Alight covers more regions with D48s than any other out-of-home (OOH) media owner, as well as more total towns and more unique towns.

While this strategy has been critical, we’ve also focused on building a talented team. We believe our success is because of our team and we are passionate about being the best employer we can be. One of our first priorities as a leadership team was to involve employees at all levels in the creation of a set of values that the business and all employees would embody. 

In 2022, we signed up to the Best Companies programme to benchmark our progress against other Small Companies and ensure employee engagement and company culture remains at the heart of the business for the long-term.

In our first year of entering, we were recognised by the prestigious scheme and named a Top 100 Best Small company to work for in the UK, a Top 30 Best Small Company to work for in London and a Top 30 Media and marketing business. We’re also the highest ranked media owner listed in Campaign’s top 100 Best Places to work – a top accolade within our industry.

Elemental OOH camapign

Do you see the OOH landscape changing very much from the time you had started your career, and how is that change contributing to the overall growth of the industry?

The huge growth of digital OOH and the use of data have been the major developments for our industry. After 12 years in the OOH industry, having joined from client side it’s been inspiring to see how we can offer brands the possibility to combine advertising in the public domain in the heart of communities, with the ability to be one of the most targeted forms of advertising available.

As we have also become more reliant on our mobile phones over the last 10 years, more decisions than ever are made on the move, enabling OOH to engage people in a highly absorbent state of mind and encourage them to take action. 

Programmatic continues to be talked about and I think we’re almost there in it gaining traction. It needs to prove it is adding value for clients, not just being an exciting new toy, while we continue to invest in infrastructure and technology. At Alight we are focused on what we do best to help advertisers connect with audiences and share how OOH can help build brands, change minds, and drive sales.

What are advertisers’ expectations from OOH / DOOH today, and are you seeing integrated communications as the opportunity universe? How are advertisers seeing the ROI today?

The most exciting opportunity in OOH today is for our advertisers. There’s never been a better time for advertisers to maximise the power of OOH. They get to enjoy the very best of OOH, on their terms. 

As a ‘digital first’ approach to OOH evolves and programmatic OOH develops, the medium will offer greater Transparency, Flexibility, Creativity and Efficiency for advertisers.  This in turn will drive impact and improve marketing ROI.

  1. Transparency because of net pricing and private marketplace agreements that can be seen by participants. 
  2. Flexibility because planning and buying platforms have more capability than ever before - to deliver solutions by time, location, impressions, plays, targeting or a combination of. 
  3. Creativity because this can play out in real time; set goals based on conditions that benefit brands and their activation goals and react in real time. 
  4. Efficiency because the traditional way of planning, buying and posting paper out-of-home can be replaced with a host of different targeted digital solutions that best serve the client’s brief. 

For this vision to be achieved, media owners must be willing and able to deliver it; we are.

Do you plan for geographical expansion of your business reach? Any other plans for expansion?

We are very happy with the growth of our business and will continue to expand through our core business plan. But yes, it's going well, and we're excited about expanding into other territories when we see the right opportunity. We have an international investor base, and the global outlook of our investor partners is inspiring. We also see how attractive the UK is to international partners and are expanding our sales team to engage with international clients.

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