The street poster industry is tearing down the outside from the inside

Marcus Seal
By Marcus Seal | 15 January 2021
Marcus Seal

Marcus Seal is the general manager of Rock Posters.

Malcolm Turnbull recently reminded me of the Napoleon quote "never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself". To date I’ve followed his advice. However, the activities of some are damaging an industry that my colleagues have worked very hard to legitimise over the last few decades.

I’ve been in the chair at Rock Posters, now in its 34th year, for a little over six months, and the view from inside an outdoor/street poster company has been fascinating. We have established a trusted brand, and I see first-hand the 70+ hour weeks on the factory floor, the diligence that accompanies the weekly run sheets and the sheer dedication to the client, agency or individual who has placed their faith in us. There is a dedication to integrity and no-one is ever short-changed.

Recently, however, I’ve seen the battle to win the hearts and minds go to “the offer”, and like many throughout this pandemic we’ve been forced to price where we barely break even, which is clearly not great and unsustainable.

As a client I’ve always heard the rumours, the ruthless competition and the turf wars that have made the business sound like a Godfather/Scarface/Warriors movie. And I’ve played the field and had dealings with them all. I’ve never paid the rumours much attention, unless I had some anecdotal hunch that the coverage was not quite what I was expecting on my own campaign. And as I’ve always done multi-channel, fully-integrated marketing campaigns, to load the blame on one channel always seemed to be particularly naïve, there were always other matters at play.

We’ve noticed our competitors offering inventory that’s not available at rates that would see them taking hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth in terms of a hit. (Out of respect for the client we’ve been asked not to reveal the culprit, however some may work it out.)

The trademark tactic of another competitor uses tactics including posting over churches, street art, as well as our fully-owned, extensive inventory. This is one of those things that gives the Outdoor Media Association cause to doubt our legitimacy, not to mention potential users of the medium.

This is not us crying “it’s not fair” - we’ll go on competing, and we will overcome. However, while I’d largely suggest to our competitors “keep doing what you’re doing because we love having you as competitors”, I do not want to damage the industry. It remains cost-effective, it produces results for those who use it well and it is one of the last great creative playgrounds. Most marketers and advertisers see our value, and for someone who relied upon it working for 20 odd years I can attest to that fact.

As the Melbourne market gingerly approaches a state of confidence, hopefully to rival most other states, our business is set to return in a better, stronger shape. We have used our COVID time well - we have improved our systems, dug deeply into our approach to market and had a good look at the overall competitive landscape. 

To existing and potential clients, all I ask is that you hold your outdoor/street poster supplier to account, and if the deal looks too good to be true, there’s no doubt it is.

And to our dear competitors, do the work, and don’t drag the category down, you make us all look bad.