An­to­nio Vin­centi: In­no­va­tion is our Lifeblood


With a history of al­most three decades in the in­dus­try, An­to­nio Vin­centi’s pas­sion for driv­ing out-of-home (OOH) in­no­va­tion con­tin­ues to de­fine his Beirut-based com­pany Pikasso. Founded in 1986, to­day it stands as the clear leader in the field of OOH advertising in his home coun­try, and his am­bi­tions have also de­liv­ered Pikasso to the num­ber one spot in its other op­er­at­ing ter­ri­to­ries of Jor­dan, Al­ge­ria, and Iraq. At a time when pace of change has never been higher, An­to­nio is tire­less in his com­mit­ment to de­velop his busi­ness re­gion­ally and, through his role as Pres­i­dent of the global as­so­ci­a­tion of out­door advertising com­pa­nies, FEPE In­ter­na­tional, grow the in­dus­try. It is an en­deav­our that cur­rently draws him away from home for more than 120 nights a year. In the first big le­gal shake-up for Le­banon’s advertising in­dus­try in twenty years, Fe­bru­ary 2015 saw the State rat­ify and com­mence the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new de­cree n 1302 de­signed to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive frame­work to pro­vide sta­bil­ity for the fu­ture. For a mat­ter so crit­i­cal to the growth of OOH, An­to­nio was nat­u­rally closely in­volved in its pro­gres­sion to the statute books.

How have the new de­cree n 1302 been re­ceived by you and the in­dus­try?

Af­ter much in­tense lob­by­ing by us as well as oth­ers in the in­dus­try, this is the first de­cree to di­rectly ad­dress the con­cerns of OOH in Le­banon, and as such Nouhad Mach­nouk, Le­banon’s Min­is­ter of In­te­rior and Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, has pro­vided a pos­i­tive base for us to move for­ward. Our medium is to­day ex­tremely dy­namic, and we are in­volved in the con­stant cre­ation of in­no­va­tions. The in­dus­try in Le­banon also en­com­passes very di­verse ca­pa­bil­i­ties amongst the play­ers in the mar­ket. This is a de­cree that ad­dresses most of these fac­tors, and it largely re­moves the pre­vi­ous sense of in­se­cu­rity that per­vaded the in­dus­try.

They have ad­dressed most, if not all, of the weak­nesses of the pre­vi­ous de­cree. Now a le­gal frame­work, that is fair to ev­ery­one, pro­tects us and the in­dus­try can, at last, look to­wards a sta­ble fu­ture with real con­fi­dence.

Pikasso suf­fered a lot through the pre­vi­ous poorly im­ple­mented law. We lost more than 700 lo­ca­tions in the pe­riod around 2011. We hope to be able to re­build most if not all of these, and have al­ready re­in­stalled a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber.

It is true there are ar­eas that we wished to have been ad­dressed in a dif­fer­ent man­ner. For ex­am­ple, this de­cree did not go far enough to ful­fill our am­bi­tion of hav­ing a fully ad­vanced OOH sec­tor. In Le­banon, there are more than sixty play­ers in what is, es­sen­tially, a small mar­ket. The size of this mar­ket can­not cater to the vol­ume of play­ers. In the fu­ture we will lobby again, to ame­lio­rate the el­e­ments we’d like to see im­proved.

What is the cur­rent state of the Le­banese mar­ket?

It is well known that 2014 was a bad year for us all due to a num­ber of fac­tors – the sit­u­a­tion in Syria and Iraq not least amongst them. Multi­na­tion­als here were not reach­ing their tar­gets; so advertising bud­gets were amongst the first ca­su­al­ties. Also, we saw bud­gets in some mar­kets di­verted from out­door to satel­lite. The Le­banese busi­ness com­mu­nity’s spir­its were also damp­ened by a re­duc­tion in Arab-na­tional visi­tors to the coun­try.

The good news is that 2015 has seen a re­ver­sal in for­tune. Col­lec­tively, we’ve picked our­selves up and dusted our­selves down, and this year we’re see­ing growth of up to 3%. Com­pared to the other Le­van­tine mar­kets, Le­banon is well ahead on growth and pro­jec­tions. The feel­ing here is now pos­i­tive amongst the key na­tional advertising sec­tors. While it is be­ing led by the FMCG sec­tor, it is clear that bank­ing, cars and re­tail are in­creas­ing their advertising spent. Dur­ing 2014 many com­pa­nies post­poned the launch of new prod­ucts – it was an un­usual sit­u­a­tion and once the feel­ing of nor­mal­ity re­turned, we knew the re­turn of growth would fol­low.

Com­pared to the other Le­van­tine mar­kets, Le­banon is well ahead on growth and pro­jec­tions.

In­no­va­tion is in Pikasso’s DNA. What’s cur­rently ex­cit­ing you on this front?

The head­line here is the mas­sive pace of de­vel­op­ment within our in­dus­try. Dur­ing the past three years we have launched more new prod­ucts than through­out our en­tire pre­vi­ous history. We are mov­ing to­wards mass digi­ti­sa­tion of the mar­ket, and have pre­vi­ously pub­li­cally an­nounced a tar­get of 100 dig­i­tal sites. Al­ready we have 27 LED screens – from 12 square me­ters up to 112 square me­ters. By the end of the year we will reach 34 screens in Le­banon, in the other coun­tries we have in­stalled 13 large for­mat LED. This is real, tan­gi­ble and quan­tifi­able roll­out. The key to on­go­ing suc­cess though is that we are heavy in­vestors. We are al­ways look­ing at the long-term, and this is not some­thing com­mon in the re­gion in this in­dus­try.

Last year, in co­op­er­a­tion with Blue Bite, we launched The Mo­bile Bridge. There’s an in­escapable and in­creas­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween mo­bile and out-of-home. It’s be­com­ing all about en­gage­ment and in­ter­ac­tion.

Malls present a very favourable en­vi­ron­ment for the fu­ture of this en­gage­ment, and we now have one mall, Le Mall Dbayeh, which is al­ready fully dig­i­tal. We are up­grad­ing Ci­ty­mall, where we cur­rently have only eight screens – we’ll add more, ex­clu­sively dig­i­tal through­out the up­grade. All the new screens that we now in­stall within a mall en­vi­ron­ment in Le­banon, Jor­dan and Al­ge­ria have a cam­era, to­gether with a bea­con or an Ed­dy­s­tone, and half will also be touch-screen en­abled. In fu­ture, when­ever a cam­paign is run, ev­ery­thing will be there to of­fer aug­mented re­al­ity, fa­cial recog­ni­tion and in­ter­ac­tive mes­sag­ing through touch­screens. Pikasso is the first in our mar­kets to be do­ing this.

We’ve al­ways been at the fore­front of in­no­va­tion. In­no­va­tion is our lifeblood. To­day, such is the pace of change that we can­not stand still for a mo­ment; oth­er­wise we would be go­ing back­wards and quickly to a point where any­one who stag­nates will get so far be­hind that they’ll never catch up.

The struc­ture of our busi­ness has changed to re­flect our aware­ness of the im­por­tance of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. In the past we had engi­neers, we had tech­ni­cians and we had good sales peo­ple. Now to be suc­cess­ful a busi­ness

needs de­vel­op­ment engi­neers, an army of IT peo­ple, far higher-qual­i­fied sales peo­ple and, im­por­tantly, we need to find ways through which to ed­u­cate the mar­ket.

To­day the chal­lenge is to se­lect the tech­nol­ogy you want to go in to, then to se­lect the right sup­pli­ers, and then you have to com­mu­ni­cate and have the client-side of the mar­ket get ac­quainted with it.

It’s a very big chal­lenge. For ev­ery client, dig­i­ti­za­tion is full of ben­e­fits. For the agen­cies the ben­e­fits are less clearcut; for ex­am­ple the cre­ation of dig­i­tal con­tent costs more than the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of con­tent. How­ever, to­day’s most suc­cess­ful cre­ative agen­cies are po­si­tion­ing them­selves as ex­pert ad­vi­sors to their clients, and there­fore adding to their own value.

The trend ahead is clear, and one piece of ad­vice I would give to cre­ative agen­cies is to add this dig­i­tal con­tent cre­ation skill in-house – un­less they do this they will have missed an op­por­tu­nity. It is less clear-cut for book­ing agen­cies; to­day they see only adding com­plex­ity. Amongst all stake­hold­ers, their chal­lenge is to master these new tech­nolo­gies. The book­ing agen­cies’ role could be to boost the takeup of new tech­nol­ogy for in­stance.

Sim­ply put, the dig­i­tal fu­ture re­quires heavy in­vest­ment. We have in­vested $8 mil­lion over the past four years, and we are go­ing to in­vest $4 mil­lion across our mar­kets next year. These are sig­nif­i­cant sums com­pared to our rev­enue, and I think it shows our com­mit­ment to the fu­ture and to our clients. There are no short­cuts to suc­cess any longer. For ex­am­ple, in one of our Al­ge­rian mall lo­ca­tions Park Mall in Setif to be launched in De­cem­ber 1st, we have a rib­bon of 26 me­ters with a por­trait in the mid­dle on three floors, and in Jor­dan a LED screen in Ci­ty­mall that ex­tends to the height of three floors bear­ing a res­o­lu­tion of 6mm. These re­quire costly and sub­stan­tial in­vest­ments. In Jor­dan we’re on the verge of mak­ing a very spe­cial an­nounce­ment, and in Al­ge­ria we have the con­ces­sion for all malls, and here ev­ery four months we are an­nounc­ing new launches.

Cus­tom de­sign is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant for us. We want to in­te­grate our dis­plays within the con­text of their en­vi­ron­ment, and are es­tab­lish­ing our­selves as be­ing spe­cial­ized with this. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the de­cree we dis­cussed ear­lier has given us se­cu­rity. With this in mind we are in­vest­ing in up­grad­ing our 4x3s, and also adding some new large-for­mats. This year our teams have been work­ing like never be­fore to re­built what has been re­moved un­fairly.

It is of course im­por­tant that the ad­van­tages of dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ment ex­tend to and are ac­cepted by the public. Through the con­sid­ered use of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy the public are see­ing a level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion in OOH that has never been pos­si­ble be­fore.

We can de­liver con­trolled bright­ness, so we are not burn­ing the eyes of the viewer. We’re now tak­ing ad­van­tage of the new laws and us­ing sub­tle mo­tion rather than full mo­tion. Our fa­mil­iar 4x3 screen, with their trade­mark yel­low bar, in­clude a ther­mome­ter dis­play­ing the cur­rent tem­per­a­ture, and a clock giv­ing the time. Stud­ies have shown that peo­ple, who live in cities where there are dig­i­tal screens, feel that their city is a pos­i­tive city, a mod­ern city. They feel that their city is con­nected.

Whilst the ther­mome­ter and clock are en­gag­ing to the public, they also have a se­ri­ous use for us. They be­come rel­e­vant when we run weather-trig­gered cam­paigns such as Dun­lop that run the first five days of heavy rain, or times­lot­spe­cific cam­paigns such as L’ori­ent Le Jour that dis­plays ev­ery morn­ing its head­lines, Car­refour that regularly broad­casts spe­cial pro­mo­tions dur­ing the af­ter­noon, Dunkin Donut that pro­moted its new Cof­fee Latte Caramel Salted us­ing the af­ter­noon time slot and La­bel 5 that com­mu­ni­cated dur­ing the evenings to cover the hype of Beirut City.

You’ve been Pres­i­dent of FEPE In­ter­na­tional since Oc­to­ber 2014, and your term runs for two years. What do you al­ready look back on as your key achieve­ments so far, and what work do you see ly­ing ahead?

I’m proud of my in­volve­ment in FEPE, and have been a mem­ber since 1988 and was pre­vi­ously twice elected Vice-pres­i­dent. As the only global out-of-home as­so­ci­a­tion, we have a very ac­tive board that meets three or four times per year. Our main role is to or­gan­ise an an­nual congress that is like a univer­sity in our pro­fes­sion. We also have a weekly news­let­ter, and we par­tic­i­pate and spon­sor in­dus­try re­search in ad­di­tion, of course, to pro­mote best prac­tice.

We are al­ways look­ing at the longterm, and this is not some­thing com­mon in the re­gion in this in­dus­try.

We’ve just com­pleted a very suc­cess­ful congress in Bu­dapest, one that had a record num­ber of at­ten­dees, 320, in­clud­ing visi­tors from 39 coun­tries, and from ev­ery con­ti­nent. It was a true global fo­rum. I’m al­ready in­volved in plan­ning the next congress; it will be held in Is­tan­bul in June 2016.

My term has seen the in­tro­duc­tion of the FEPE Awards. I felt it was time that we recog­nised the out­stand­ing peo­ple that make our in­dus­try the strong, cre­ative and in­no­va­tive suc­cess that it is. We in­tro­duced four awards: the Life­time Achieve­ment Award; the Lead­er­ship Award; the Tech­ni­cal In­no­va­tion Award and the Cre­ative Award.

This year, the board has also ap­proved to join the con­sor­tium es­tab­lished to de­liver the first au­di­ence mea­sure­ment for dig­i­tal OOH advertising – known as AM4DOOH com­posed by APG, Clear Chan­nel, Ex­te­rion and JC De­caux. We have worked sim­i­larly in the past and pub­lished stud­ies such as the Global Guide­lines on Out of Home au­di­ence mea­sure­ment in co­op­er­a­tion with Eso­mar and “Al­ways On”. These have de­liv­ered im­por­tant in­dus­try guide­lines, and AM4DOOH builds on this.

We are also in the com­mence­ment of a re­view of FEPE. We’ve en­gaged an in­de­pen­dent ad­vi­sor, who we are work­ing with, in help­ing us draw a map for the fu­ture of FEPE. We’re look­ing at how best FEPE can drive the fu­ture of our in­dus­try on a global level.

What’s next for you?

The next step for Pikasso is to work on a trans­for­ma­tional ac­qui­si­tion. Two-thirds of our busi­ness is cur­rently con­ducted abroad, but I would be very happy if one day this fig­ure was at 95%. This is where we are head­ing, and this is a key mech­a­nism through which we can grow.

I love what I do. I’ve al­ways been very in­volved at the high­est lev­els of FEPE. In­deed it is largely thanks to FEPE I know all the main play­ers in this in­dus­try. Through­out the past twenty-nine years I’ve shaken the hand of most of the key out-of-home peo­ple in the world. I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to sup­port FEPE and the in­dus­try, even af­ter my term as Pres­i­dent is over.

Vin­centi, FEPE Pres­i­dent, open­ing the 56th An­nual Congress held in Bu­dapest from the 10th to the 12th of June 2015.

The new pres­ti­gious Land­mark (40x8m) lo­cated on the crowded Queen Noor Street in Ab­dali, the new down­town of Amman.

The Sta­tion Net­work is the ul­ti­mate place-based advertising op­por­tu­nity in a se­lec­tion of 22 MEDCO gaz sta­tions in Beirut, its Metropoli­tan Area and Mount Le­banon

The new Large For­mat Dig­i­tal LED screen (14x8m) on Quar­an­taine High­way fac­ing Fo­rum de Beirut.

An­to­nio Vin­centi, CEO of Pikasso / Lawhat and FEPE Pres­i­dent

Vin­centi with John Ellery - FEPE MD and Jean-françois De­caux - Chair­man and CO-CEO of Jcde­caux, re­ceiv­ing the FEPE Life­time Achieve­ment Award 2015 on be­half of his fa­ther Jean-claude De­caux.

Vin­centi with John Ellery - FEPE MD and François de Gaspé Beaubien - Chair­man & CEO of Zoom Media re­ceiv­ing the FEPE In­ter­na­tional Lead­er­ship Award 2015.

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