By Stephen Foster
“Ten years ago there were probably less than a hundred people in Lisbon,” said the FEPE International delegate on the way home at Budapest airport. “It was more of a meeting than a Congress.”
“This time we had what seemed like the whole industry; agencies and suppliers as well as owners and all, mostly, agreeing with each other.”
“That’s nice,” we said.
“Now it’s back to business,” he smiled.
All business these days is adversarial to a degree but the role of any trade association – in particular at big meetings like the FEPE Congress in Budapest – should be to bring people together, socially as well as the serious matter of finding common ground.
FEPE International stands out among such associations because of its international reach as well as its ‘broad church’ status – all sides of the industry from buyers to sellers.
The theme of the Congress – ‘Your Audience Is Waiting’ – encapsulated the opportunity out there: the chance to create a global mass marketing medium at a time when other media – most notably television – are busily fragmenting.
Inevitably at the Congress there was much talk, and highly illuminating talk, of technology and the opportunities (and pitfalls) presented by digital.
And it’s obvious enough that any Congress concerned with a medium – Out Of Home – will focus on delivery systems, the requirements of advertisers and assessment.
But as well as the medium there is, of course, the message and without the latter the former won’t deliver as it might.
So it was brave but correct to hand the keynote speech at the Congress to British creative Dave Trott, one of the founders of iconic creative agency Gold Greenlees Trott (subsequently bought by Omnicom’s TBWA) then of several other agencies and one of the most-lauded copywriters of modern adland. Without the right message, no delivery system will produce relevant and effective communications.
Trott’s theme was ‘Complicated is stupid, simple is clever.’ Less can be more, in other words, which is a salutary lesson for a rapidly growing industry in which technology is making anything possible.
There were other warning shots. Rupert Day of WPP’s giant OOH operation Tenth Avenue warned that much work needed to be done to synchronise ad formats before it would be possible to run truly global OOH campaigns, the holy grail for a broadcast medium.
But the overwhelming message was hugely positive; OOH is growing apace in all parts of the world (and not just via digital) and the reach of FEPE itself its growing too, with a delegate from China for the first time and many representatives from Australia, the Middle East and Africa among others – 39 countries in all.
FEPE began life in Paris 56 years ago and, inevitably, it reflects the two power centres of OOH, Europe and north America. But it is now a global body for a global industry, one that has embraced the digital revolution and actually prospered through such technology. Which makes it just about unique among ‘traditional’ media.
There’s no harm whatsoever in feeling rather pleased with oneself, sipping Tokaji in the spectacular surroundings of the Hungarian National Gallery where FEPE’s inaugural awards were presented, headlined by the Lifetime Achievement Award for JC Decaux founder Jean-Claude Decaux (see above).
But more challenges await. FEPE International will re-convene in Istanbul next year, a location that reflects the expanding world of OOH.
Maybe in the future it will head to Beijing, Sydney or Lagos.
So FEPE’s on the march and so, without any doubt, is the OOH industry.