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Automation in OOH…Does anyone really care?

By Rajiv Raghunath - September 14, 2023

Mike Cooper, Global Head of Operations at US-based OOH media software company DOMedia asserts that automation is not an end in itself but a means to deliver strategy, ideation, and creative solutions to agencies and clients.

One must assume that the OOH industry does care about automation, right? It seems to be all we ever talk about. I was asked to write this article about it. Last week, I was asked to give an opinion on the evolution of “programmatic” in our world. The week before, I did a 30-minute interview on “the benefits AI will bring to the space.” 

Mike Cooper, Global Head of Operations at US-based OOH media software company DOMedia

I genuinely love talking about this stuff. It’s important stuff and will change – or is changing – how we operate. It’s changing how accurate, efficient, accountable (and lots of other awesome adjectives) we can be. Then again, in their day, so did the abacus, the calculator, the mobile phone and the internet. Though, I don’t think we focused on these things exclusively at the time. The abacus and calculator pre-date even me. But, when I got my cell phone and an email address, they were predominantly used by clients to ask me for strategy, ideation, and creative solutions that got their products in the hands of consumers. These things should remain top priority. Everything else is a means to this end.

Now, automation is a very important means to said end. The only task we have is to make a consumer get on a plane, wear a t-shirt, drive a car, drink a coffee, etc, etc, etc. Making our medium easier to access, plan, buy, optimise, align with other media and attribute, surely frees up our collective genius. Automation gives us space to create more compelling campaigns for brands that spend in OOH. It also gives us time to go out and convince more brands that they should.

The biggest brands in the world understand the value of our medium. The top 20 brands spend a disproportionate percentage of their budgets in OOH compared to the global average. They always did – whoever the top 20 were at the time– long before programmatic and automation. The next 200 brands spend a disproportionately low percentage in the space. I’d wager that few of the latter 200 would explain this by stating, “there isn’t enough data,” “I can’t buy it programmatically,” or “my agency hasn’t automated the process.” In truth (and I am being self-deprecating about our industry and myself in this) they would likely say, “nobody has ever really talked about OOH to me.” We seem to default to the top 20 brands who already love us.

This marks the halfway point of the 800 words I was asked to write. At this stage, you may be thinking, “what the hell, Mike? You work firmly on the tech side of the business!” You’re right. And, I truly think it is the most exciting place to be right now. Ultimately, I believe the industry desperately needs all the facets I have mentioned thus far, whether you feel I came across positively or negatively on each.

Here’s the concern we need to overcome together: this massive influx of opportunities, under the ‘data & tech’ umbrella, might just make the whole thing more complicated – especially if we don’t massively educate ourselves on it all. I hear claims like, “we can now trade OOH, just like online!” We can’t, and we shouldn’t. We are not just a physical approximation of a website; we are so much more. I also hear, “buying OOH used to be super hard, now it’s super easy.” Well, if you’ve been buying OOH all your career, you don’t think it’s incredibly hard. If you haven’t, why do you care unless someone sells you on the concept of the medium? Finally, there’s “if we could take just 1% of digital spend, it’s like, a gazillion dollars!” Nobody is giving us that. Even if it’s only 1%, we must go and get it.

There is a vast array of companies in our space – with all good intentions – trying to make our lives easier. And, all too often they’re taking a slice of the budget to do so. I do fear a little, that we are drifting back into bygone days of untransparent trading. It’s an unfortunate reputation we all worked hard to overcome. It doesn’t matter how smart your tech is or what quantity of data you fuel it with. There is not a model whereby you can take a media dollar, spend just 60 cents on media, and make that 60 cents worth more than the original dollar.  

What I hope to see is a transparent software provider that allows agencies and clients to plan their OOH campaigns end-to-end. Traditional, digital, experiential, and programmatic media, unified alongside attribution, performance, and predictive improvement (to throw AI back in the loop).

Of course, this is a very top-line and personal view; food for thought perhaps. As I always say, “if anyone has any thoughts, or areas where they agree or disagree, please reach out.” We can grab a coffee and look for solutions together.


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