Cathy O’Connor, the new CEO, and only the second in 30 years, of oOh!media, sat in an almost empty office on her first day.
She has taken over the outdoor media specialist, after 12 years as CEO of Nova Entertainment Group, from the founder, Brendon Cook, who transformed the company from a start-up in the late 1980s to an ASX-listed industry leader.
She did her first results announcement this week, telling the market that revenue and market share had rebounded from the depths of the pandemic. That was about six weeks into the job.
“The first day I came into the office I was almost the only person,” she told AdNews. “This was before we moved offices in Sydney so no-one was yet in the building.
“I wanted to have as much contact with the staff as I could so I did a live video address at 2 pm and talked for about half an hour.”
Her goal was to give staff a sense of who she was, her views on leadership, on what makes a great company, her belief in the sector and what she would be doing in her first 90 days.
“On the road to recovery, there's a lot to do,” she says. “You just get into the slipstream of business as usual. An internal focus in the first month, moving more externally in the second month.
“And then you're developing a general view of whether there's ways we can run the business better and it’s too early to say what those plans will -- we may change very little.
“You know it’s a pretty successful business. It just needs to get back to where it was and navigate the recovery in the first instance.”
O’Connor moved in on January 11 as the business was emerging from the darkness of COVID in 2020.
“I think for anyone in the media sector it was a tough year,” she told AdNews.
“But we really saw the green shoots in Q4 (December quarter) and that was particularly evident in our larger formats of road and retail for obvious reasons -- people still moving about in the suburbs and in shopping centres -- and street furniture
“And that trend has just carried through to 2021. I am comfortable, if not happy, with January, because it shows an improvement on Q4. February will be the same.”
“We have both the overall company pacing better at 90% on 2019 levels. And then within that, we have those stronger formats pacing at a 100%.
“That feels really good to me. It does underpin that there is a recovery on the way, and certainly the early conversations I'm having with agencies and our sales teams demonstrate that briefing activities are up.
“Some of the key segments like automotive and banks are all back and open for business.”
Since moving to that empty office she’s been getting around talking to staff and meeting with agencies and senior executives.
“Every week feels like five minutes,” she says. “I'm incredibly immersed in it. I'm enjoying it. I knew I would enjoy it but I'm thrilled with the change.
“You know, I don't think I'll ever look at a sign in a shopping centre or roadside in the same way again because there's such an impressive amount of intelligence and expertise that goes behind the sector.”
On the revenue side, that feels a little similar to her with the same agencies, same clients.
“In my early conversation externally, and obviously those will build, there's a really high level of engagement with the sector from agencies and senior executives in the advertising side,” she says.
“There's a lot of interest in the future, how we're innovating with the sector measurement and how all of the out of home companies are working together to future build the industry together.
“I used to look at the growing share of advertising of out-of-home -- and just the digitisation and the impact of over the last 10 years -- and thinking, Wow, that just, that's just a natural advantage.”
She sees that innovation playing into the growth of the sector.
“When I'm sitting down with the team, looking at the results, talking to customers, my own perspective and the history of the sector and what I'm seeing, it's all about growth for out of home,” she says.
“And you put that story to the markets with genuine data to support it, as we have, and that's been terrific to be able to have a high level of conviction with what we're seeing in our data about the return of growth.”
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