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‘It pays to go big on diversity of talent’

By - December 27, 2022

The OOH industry needs change-makers, people who have a larger vision and the skills to articulate and communicate that vision, writes Fabian Trevor Cowan, Founder of 1BB & an Independent D/OOH Consultant. Fabian was earlier Country Head of Posterscope India, the specialist agency that he was associated with as early as 2011.

“Human Resource isn’t a thing we do. It’s the thing that runs our business." -- Steve Wynn.

Fabian Trevor Cowan, Founder of 1BB & independent D/OOH ConsultantYes, Talent in any industry needs to be looked at with a long-term vision, not a short-term lens. More so from the OOH industry perspective. My experience of close to a dozen years building, what I believe to be the best and most forward-looking OOH advertising agency in India, has taught me the most crucial lessons that I could ever learn as a professional and a leader.

When Haresh Nayak hired me to build Brandscope, we had to choose between incremental improvement which is playing small or a paradigm shift which is a break out, bold move. I am glad we chose the latter. We decided to change the narrative of the industry and narratives are changed by the right kind of people. Note, this was the year 2011 when a concept like this was unheard of. Despite that, I stuck my neck out and opted for a new kind of diversity; a talent pool that was outside of the OOH industry. “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see” Haresh could see my vision and gave me the green signal to go big on the diversity of talent.

We changed the narrative, took the market by surprise, walked into meetings and pitches with a refreshing air of confidence, spoke a language that decision makers for OOH had not heard until then,  and by the time I was done, Posterscope was one of the most respected agencies in the country, and its people who built the brand brick by brick and inch by inch were and still are some of the most sought-after professionals in the industry; well placed to continue the good work they were conditioned to do.

What can we learn from this? Clearly, it is about your people. The OOH industry today needs change-makers, people who have a larger vision and the skills to articulate and communicate that vision. We created a programme called “Hunters Meet”, which was built on the premise that the market needs to witness a new breed of OOH professionals. We invested and injected our people with an instinct that focussed on winning. You see, getting into something to win is very different from getting into something, not to lose. Our people went in with a winning mindset because of the sessions that they rigorously went through during the Hunter meets. This made us a formidable force inking a winning percentage of a handsome 60-65% at all big pitches of the day.

Yes, the medium of OOH prepares professionals well. As the ecosystem is largely driven by independent pitches per campaign and is not necessarily part of the AoR bouquet of many clients, the rejection, the losses, the negotiations, the high decibel, and high-octane pitches; all combine together to chisel and refine professionals to an extent that they can then evolve into entrepreneurs themselves. There are many celebrated examples of this within our industry and this is only getting better.

As someone who has built ‘A’ teams, I believe that a talent gap still exists but then it can easily be filled with a concerted effort. Companies that treat their people as assets will thrive and successful companies have a sense of elasticity when they see an opportunity that can change things for the better; they go ahead and do it. Is your company one of those?

As Joe Gebbia said on building Airbnb, we focussed on “connections beyond transactions” so too with talent in OOH. When people start connecting with brand owners built on a narrative that is beyond just transactions, change will happen.

I dare say that when OOH professionals stop looking at a billboard or a screen as a metal structure and begin to see it as … the community connector, the vital information provider, the helping hand when waiting at the supermarket, the soothing distraction in a metro carriage, the entertainer, the content-provider, the AR trigger, the trustworthy brand builder, the public utility air cleanser, the reminder of social measures, the national galvaniser, the LinkedIn post, the Facebook share, the Instagram profile, the Twitter trend or the Cannes entry, only then, yes we would have done ourselves the greatest of favours. In a small way, I was able to do that with my teams at Posterscope, making it a great company to leave from... Not just a great company to work for.

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