Whether on foot in a big city or by car in a suburban area, the ubiquity of OOH remains. But there’s something decidedly different about the look, feel and, critically, potential to engage and interact more with the medium: creativity.
There’s never been a time where the possibilities of OOH seem almost endless. It’s driven by technology and enabled by some of the great creative talents in the industry. Giving pros like this a playground to work with like this is what happens when you see a 3D mashup with Fortnite and Balenciaga in Times Square. It’s when people pause in Tokyo to film a board celebrating Nike Air Max Day, causing a social media firestorm (in a good way).
And creativity is the domain of impressive local campaigns, including the 2022 OBIE Hall of Fame winner for Denver Water. Traditional boards came to life with unique designs using the entire structure. Shelters and benches were creatively modified to make people all over the region pause, think and act.
It truly is a golden age for OOH, and no one is a bigger champion of its creativity and enduring strength than Rick Robinson, who just wrapped his tenure as Chief Creative Officer in Residence at the OAAA. An industry veteran since 1986, we caught up with Robinson and OAAA CEO Anna Bager to learn more about the program (a first for the organization), its high points during the year, why every creative and media professional should be bullish on OOH and more.
Interview lightly edited for length and clarity
How did the idea of the residency come to fruition with the OAAA?
Robinson: This was all Anna Bager’s idea, and she made it happen. I was intrigued and honestly inspired when she brought up the notion of a short-term “residency” after I became available this past fall after departing Billups as Chief Strategy Officer. We became fast friends shortly after she was appointed CEO in 2019. We enjoyed an immediate common ground of sharing our passion and optimism about what’s next for OOH Media and the OAAA.
Accessing focused, influential, and trusted industry expertise provides top-spin and fresh energy to the OAAA/OOH game during a very ambitious time of recovery and aspirational growth. This practice will create a web of industry executives with a deeper commitment and affinity toward supporting industry initiatives.
Anna Bager: I appreciate the kind words, Rick. But where the residency idea comes from is that OOH and OAAA are at pivotal moments in their histories, and it makes all the sense in the world to tap this industry knowledge and expertise. As a first for this kind of residency, I can say that it is laying the groundwork for our next evolution in creativity and other areas of OOH. We’ll continue to invite OOH leaders at the forefront of this industry to share their experience and insight.
How would you describe the assignment?
Robinson: It was simple in some ways, but one of the main things was to put significant energy into The OBIE Awards, and another was supporting whatever Anna and the team needed. Jumping into the role was a natural extension of my career-long relationship with the OAAA. Whenever they have reached out — for a think piece, a panel, to speak on OOH, to collaborate, comment on creativity, to preach, pontificate and testify on behalf of the OOH dream, literally most anything — I have said yes. It started in the ’90s and has continued to this day. I’ve always treated it as a duty and an honor.
In your mind, what were the most significant accomplishments in your residency?
Robinson: Elevating the OBIE Awards stands out. In its 80th year, we had a record number of entries (725), a first-ever live broadcast, an incredible jury led by Mark Tutssel and excellent attendance at our event. Also, we created an OBIE Spotlight series with some of the top creative minds in the world sharing their thoughts on the power of OOH creativity for brands.
I would also say that our trends report, looking at five key trends in OOH, brought a broader viewpoint and reflected on the combination of people, purpose, technology, OOH media and cities.
Additionally, there was so much visibility for OOH and OAAA. Some of it was more public-facing, like thought leadership, agency days, cocktails and conversations, and brand salons — and other parts were more behind the scenes working with Anna and Laura Colona (OAAA’s CMO) to keep pushing ahead.
Bager: I echo those successes. What Rick did — and continues to do, honestly — is keep giving us more tailwinds to thrive. It’s infectious to feel this positive energy and crosses into all areas of this industry and business. It continues to show our members and leadership that we are in a dynamic space where brands and agencies can thrive.
Talk to people in OOH, and you understand their pride in this platform and medium, and we have many more accomplishments to achieve on the horizon.
This industry is riding a (well-deserved) high at the moment. To many, this is the “Golden Age of OOH.” What needs to happen to ensure OOH stays on its upward arc?
Bager: It’s clear to me that OOH always deserves a seat at the table. And as we see this creative canvas grow, I would argue that OOH can be the primary medium for many brands and agencies. Simply put, we must continue to tell our story. We can tell our story all day long, but we continue to listen to brands and better understand how they want to do business with us. The great news is that brands continue to evolve, and we’re right there with them.
Also, we must keep delivering a better data-driven understanding of why and how OOH works in the entire marketing funnel.
Robinson: I agree 100% with what Anna is saying. I would also add the importance of behavior. The dramatic growth we hope for will require us to collectively risk our comfort zones much more than we’ve ever experienced. The specifics will land in all facets of our business — measurement, how we sell and price, performance and accountability, leasing models, and our sense of public partnership. We’ve come out of COVID feeling good about ourselves again, which can be seductive, but we need to keep embracing the tough questions we were forced to answer over the past two years.
We won’t grow in leaps until we shock the system. COVID showed us we can handle big change.
You’ve been in this industry since 1986. As you finish up your OAAA residency, what keeps you bullish on OOH?
Robinson: OOH is a human instinct, and we are visual by nature. Brands want to reach humans; therefore, OOH exists and always will. OOH reaches people when they are hyper-alert, out in the world and engaged in the economy.
I intend to keep pursuing that magical moment when we connect with people in public space and they unexpectedly give us their attention. The technology may change, and the messenger will manifest in whatever the most current forms of visual expression. Yet, in the end, OOH will thrive the more it can deliver value to humans. The more the medium can provide utility — time, fun or money — the more it will realize its right, place and purpose. I remain a humble servant of “The People’s Space.”
Bager: Amen. I’ll also add that Rick may be leaving this residency, but he will remain very close to us. He’ll continue to contribute in many ways. In fact, if you’re in LA (or there for work) on August 24th, Rick is joining us for Cocktails & Conversations, which is always a fun, dynamic and educational evening. Invites are coming soon.