‘There’s no one quite like Brendon’: Ooh Media chair Tony Faure on the path to Cathy O’Connor

Ooh Media’s search for a new leader ended yesterday when the outdoor media company announced Nova Entertainment’s CEO Cathy O’Connor as Brendon Cook’s successor. Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston spoke with Ooh Media chair Tony Faure about the search.

“There’s no one quite like Brendon, to have founded and managed a company for 30 plus years is exceptional. Finding somebody to succeed Brendon, rather than replace, it’s certainly not the easiest thing in the world.”

I’m speaking to Ooh Media chair Tony Faure hours after the announcement that Cathy O’Connor, longtime CEO of Nova Entertainment, would take the top job at the outdoor media business in 2021, ending a long search to fill the shoes of founder and CEO Brendon Cook.

Cook, who has been at the helm of the business for its entire 31 years, was supposed to step down this year, but the impact of COVID-19 on the industry saw him decide to stick around to help guide the business. Cook will also continue consulting for the business during 2021.

Cook will be leaving the Ooh Media he founded and has run for 30 years

As well as the pressure of replacing someone who has led a business for as long as it’s existed, Ooh Media was faced with the challenge of finding a new CEO during a global pandemic. Whether this impacted the search, Faure isn’t sure, but he’s confident they’ve found the right person for the job in O’Connor.

“To some extent, you don’t know, because you don’t know the people you didn’t talk to. But from our point of view, in terms of the people we knew we wanted to talk to, there were very open conversations. I don’t feel that in the end COVID played a key role, but it’s certainly interesting running a big recruitment process in COVID versus in the normal world,” said Faure.

There were three things the Ooh Media board really liked about O’Connor, says Faure. Firstly, her success at Nova and the business she and her team have been able to build in a competitive market.

“The second thing is the way they’ve built value into that business by being disciplined in how they manage it and run it and the importance of innovation in that context. And then the final thing is Cathy’s track record of working with, and developing, and investing, in talent, being able to nurture and bring that through.”

Cathy O’Connor will take the lead at Ooh Media in 2021

There was a focus in the Ooh Media announcement to the ASX yesterday on technology and the future of the business. Ooh pointed to its digital abilities and its capability in data during its financial results, which saw it record a net profit after tax (NPAT) loss of $27.5m for the half-year to June 30 and an underlying net profit after tax and amortization (NPATA) loss of $16.9m, down from an $18.2m profit over the same period last year.

Cook pointed to a ‘market-leading tech platform’ and the ‘best data offering in the industry’ during the results, as well as innovation across its business. Radio is an industry that’s seen a real turn towards digital over the last few years and an evolution in its offering – the push towards digital streaming and podcasting over traditional audio delivery. Nova’s relationships, with News Corp and Acast, have seen it extend its content capabilities and diversify its sales strategy.

“Digitalisation and the ability of the business to be more digital in the way we interact with our customers are high priorities for us. We’ve invested a significant amount in that over the last few years and we’ll certainly be looking to make that work better. Digital remains core to the way we think about what we’re doing,” said Faure.

There has been speculation about what else O’Connor could bring to the business, including a possible merger with Nova down the track, but industry whispers aside it’s undeniable that she’s a strong leader and someone who has garnered a lot of respect over her 12 years at the helm of Nova. She also won’t be walking into an easy gig – while the hope is that the market will improve before her start date in 2021 and Ooh has pointed to New Zealand as proof that people are able to go back out into the wild, and audiences return, outdoor revenues will bounceback, there’s no doubt it’s a tough time to be a media boss.

Faure hopes the future will be brighter for outdoor

“I’m absolutely hoping the market will have improved [by 2021]. We are seeing audiences come back and we are seeing revenue come back, using New Zealand as the best example of that, but the two are reasonably correlated. Assuming that the pandemic evolves in a way that enables people to move around more freely, we’re very optimistic about what will happen,” said Faure.

“We’re very bullish on out of home’s ability to take share from other media over time and always have been. None of those things have changed. But unfortunately, we can’t control what happens with the pandemic and the way that people respond to it. So that’s why it’s a hope rather than a certainty right now.

“We’re very focused on being the best out of home media company that we can. We’ve talked a lot about out of home and public spaces and how those evolve over time, but we want to make sure that we continue to be very disciplined in how we think about and navigate through this set of circumstances which could evolve in different ways.

“While we’re doing that, we’re very focused on being in a position to capitalise on the opportunities that we think will come out the other end of this. Our hope for 2021 is that the markets are better and it’s easier for us to be able to articulate the growth plan that we have in our heads right now.”


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