How outdoor advertising can work for growth companies

Mike Illes of MOT Models offers advice to help you make the most of a poster advertising campaign

Taking it outside makes sense, just look at the figures.

According to figures from the Outdoor Media Centre, revenue from outdoor advertising reached £880m last year – a 12.5% increase on 2009. A number of sectors enjoyed particularly strong growth – for example the banner ad market grew by almost 50% in 2010 – further illustrating the health and prospects of outdoor promotion.

If you are targeting a mass-market audience, ‘outdoor’ advertising can deliver. Around 87% of UK adults see out-of-home advertising every week. From billboards on major routes, to bus shelters on smaller roads and high streets, out-of-home reaches just about everyone.

Wider reach

Clearly, the popularity of posters is growing as people are out and about more, especially younger, more affluent groups who might be difficult to reach through TV because they are rarely at home. They offer constant repetitive exposure because most people make repeat journeys so you should get frequent exposures to your ad. Unlike any other medium, you don’t have to buy, turn on, tune in or dial up posters – they are free to consumers.

Interestingly, the industry is only 40 years old. A bus shelter advert was the first poster of its kind to appear and the essence of outdoor media has not changed much conceptually since. It’s about capturing attention through a mix of location, orientation, size, traffic flow and, crucially, creativity.

The industry is getting better organised, and now three outdoor contractors – JC Decaux, Clear Channel and Maiden – have agreed to standardise their campaign posting timings and copy delivery dates. The move has been welcomed by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), which represents around 380 UK advertisers of marketing communications, as its outdoor action group had been actively working to encourage a more unified approach. As of January 3 2005, all three contractors agreed to post across 26 campaign periods, providing 14 days of display.

This brought roadside campaigns in line with the six-sheet products being sold and allowed advertisers to buy large outdoor format campaigns with greater efficiency. There is a wide diversity of posters available and while television audiences have continued to fragment due to the new digital services, advertisers are increasingly using out-of-home to reach mass audiences quickly. Outdoor media falls within four categories:

Roadside This includes everything from phone kiosks, six sheets, 48 sheets, 96 sheets, large format special builds through to banners. With its universal reach, roadside is a very effective way of quickly reaching mass audiences. It is successful at reaching young male audiences – a target group that other media often find difficult to deliver.

Transport A wide-ranging category covering railway and underground systems, airports, buses, taxis and truck sides. It offers a high street presence in some areas where roadside may have low penetration. Posters in transport situations can provide longer consumer ‘dwell time’ opportunities, such as at a railway station.

Retail This includes opportunities in health and leisure centres and sites seen at shopping malls, supermarkets and petrol stations, plus activity such as screens and trolley posters. It is often used to complement in-store activity and support price promotions. It is a great way to reach consumers in ‘shopping mode’.

Non-traditional formats and ambient This includes shop signs, washrooms, ticket media, petrol pumps, student unions, sandwich bags, takeaway lids and even beermats. It can make the advertising message personal and relevant to the environment.

The campaign process

If you are new to poster advertising but have placed ads in magazines in the past you might well be overwhelmed by the media buying process.

It’s strongly recommended that you take the advice of a media buying consultant who in turn has contacts with poster broking firms. These brokers buy such large volumes of media that they can pass on the savings to you, the advertiser.

An effective media buying consultancy, such as Brian Clark Media, will challenge you about your marketing and advertising strategy and quiz you on how you want to develop your business so that they can be certain to give you the best advice.

For example, if you wanted to reach an audience of finance directors from FTSE top 100 companies, you might find an ad in the FT more effective.

Official buyers and brokers can negotiate a commission – from 5 to 15% – as well as ensuring there is no ‘wastage’. They will plan your media buying and make sure you deliver your posters to the right address on time.

Creative treatment

Strong creativity is essential if a poster design is to work. Multinational corporate companies work with advertising agencies but if your advertising expenditure budget is limited to anything below £500,000 for a consumer campaign, you may find it more costeffective to use a creative shop and an independent media buying company.

A creative shop can produce the mechanical artwork for you, starting with a brief from you, followed by rough designs and photography, right through to the finished printed poster. A stylish, professional model can draw people to a poster in a highly compelling way. Two lively creative shops that are conversant with posters and enjoy the challenge of smaller clients are Eureka Marketing Solutions and Silverpoint. Alternatively, visit a specialist for the industry, such as, that lists suppliers.

Costs to consider

So how much is all this going to cost? Well, how long is a poster tube? There are three key elements of cost you need to take into account. The cost of the media space, the creative work (including photography and models as appropriate) and the cost of print. The Outdoor Advertisers Association ( helpfully lists examples of different priced campaigns. As a guideline, you could expect to pay £75,000 for a light (75 panel) 48-sheet two-week campaign on the London Underground, or 10 times that amount for a heavy (750 panel) national 96-sheet two-week roadside campaign.


Poster research is more scientific than ever before, thanks to Postar researchers who have physically visited 120,000 sites, in addition to an initial travel survey of 7,500 people that tracked 80,000 of their journeys (see

The future – post haste?

There has been a surge of initiatives to bring the moving image into the outdoor environment and you have no doubt seen screens installed at railway stations, airports, post offices, shopping malls, on trains, buses, in taxis and even local supermarkets such as Tesco. Watch this space!


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  1. I’ve worked at several startups that have dabbled in outdoor advertising. Almost always it has generated a great response whether through brand awareness or direct response, and that has been true for all mediums from billboards, tube advertising, or car advertising. The main variable that has impacted our ROI, however, has been cost. In my experience ‘flagship’ media like billboards are almost always overpriced, on the other hand alternatives like car advertising have generated a solid response but at a much more affordable price resulting in a response in line with our acquisition cost targets.