Hungry James Warburton details plans to awaken the APN ‘sleeping giant’

New APN Outdoor CEO James Warburton will transform his business into a “market leader”, by aggressively pitching for new contracts and acquisitions, refreshing the brand, all whilst ensuring client retention remains a priority.

Warburton, who last night told agencies and clients of his plans, admitted APN had not been acting as a leader, but said he was “hungry” and that he would focus on making the company stand out.

Warburton presenting to agencies and clients in Sydney last night

Despite being with the company for just 20 days, the former TV exec has already put in place a number of initiatives to set up the out of home company for growth this year.

These include a major partnership with Cannes Lions, a brand refresh by Hans Hulsbosch – to be revealed to market around April – and a “flat” structure for his executive team with seven key appointments including Mark Fairhurst, Andrew Hines and incoming marketing boss, Charlotte Valente. The company is also recruiting for a chief innovation and strategy officer.

He said APN Outdoor had a “difficult” year, noting the failed Ooh Media APN merger had stalled both internal and broader plans, which put APN behind the eight ball.

“When I look at APN Outdoor, one prominent media buyer said to me, ‘James, you’re a sleeping giant’, and that’s probably a really good expression of where we are,” he said.

Failed APN Outdoor and Ooh Media acquisition put the company behind the eight ball, Warburton says

“We’ve been very focused on what we are, which is not a criticism, but perhaps we’ve been too focused on what we are.”

He said the company would shift its focus from a “passive” assets-led company, to one with a “sales-centric client focus”. He also signalled he would be a more active voice in the industry.

“There’s been a clear leader in the market and its someone that’s been prepared to speak out and be an advocate for the industry and do a very good job in doing so. Again for those of you who know me for the good and the bad, you’ll find that we will absolutely push our place, push our product, re-package and really attempt to lead,” he said.

On the brand refresh, Warburton said it was essential for the company’s transformation: “We are taking a brand that’s served us well, it’s essentially been a spin out of the APN News & Media days in terms of APN Outdoor and giving it a complete refresh which is appropriate for our ambitions moving ahead. Hans Hulsbosch and the team there have designed that.”

Hulsbosch is behind the rebrand of APN Outdoor, which will be revealed to the public in April

Warburton will also push for new contracts, after the company lost two contracts last year – Canberra Airport and Melbourne’s Yarra Trams.

“We have lost four contracts since 2011 and two of them were last year, when we were a bit distracted by the merger. A retention first policy, a brutal focus on what we are and about, I wouldn’t bet against this company. We are as fierce and telling in everything we do, every tender, every market situation, so expect us to be very focused on that,” he said.

But while retention will be a major focus, so will adjacency, with Warburton pointing to expanding into new categories where APN hasn’t ventured such as street furniture. At present, The City of Sydney tender is underway.

And while Warburton said there have been 12 expressions of interest for the tender, he said his company has an extraordinary opportunity.

“Those of you that like pitching, in the agency fraternity you like pitching, I love pitching, we’ll be doing a lot of pitching I can guarantee that,” he joked.

JCDecaux currently has the outdoor advertising rights in the City of Sydney, but Warburton “loves pitching”

On the topic of merger and acquisitions, Warburton said the company would be “really aggressive” and “really hungry”.

“We have a great balance sheet and we’ll be extremely hungry to think about a number of bolt on acquisitions and to think about the future,” he said.

In a Q&A later on in the presentation, Warburton explained further: “There’s no secret that everyone has looked at everything, investment bankers have wound themselves into knots but nothing has happened.”

He said following the review of 2018/19 contracts, and the transformation associated, the out of home industry would “settle”.

Also in the presentation, Warburton critiqued the industry’s roll out of digital billboards, arguing to model “wasn’t quite right”.

While he said the industry should be congratulated for the quality of its inventory and its efforts, he said: “But I also would say the model doesn’t look to be right. The OMA knows that, the digital measurement, where we sit, our approach to market and I’m really interested in your observations and dealing with each out you as we go forward.

We are towards the end of the cycle of rolling out more sites from that perspective. My comments on the model are industry association measurement not being there and our go to market approach not being quite right across the board. Not for every site potentially, but there seems to be lots of talk in the industry about share of voice, so I think it’s not quite right creatively, we’re not selling as we should be.”

He furthered this by critiquing APN’s prior efforts to establish inventory management systems and also noted the industry association had been slow in improving the quality of inventory.

“Part of APN News & Media, spun out to private equity, listed, in there there’s not a lot of time or not a lot of will to put in the investment in terms of back end system, hygiene factors and really important things in terms of post-analysis, inventory management systems, and making sure we really get it right every time we put a campaign to air,” he said.

Warburton later told Mumbrella the company was also making commitments to ensuring transparency for clients and agencies would be a focus.

“Commitments to the Seedooh system and they are fundamentally important for us. The industry, getting to the point where it is completely front facing professional, accountable, is crucial and we are obviously taking the steps. It’s a pretty significant investment obviously in the back end for us,” he said.

Seedooh is a third party out of home platform which aggregates classic and digital data with campaign bookings.


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