Monday Interview: Sites set on a roller-poster success story

The boss of More O'Ferrall talks to Mathew Horsman about his enthusiasm for selling the great outdoors

Next to television, radio, and even dear old newspapers, the outdoor advertising market strikes most outsiders as, well, dull and old-fashioned. Its image of man on a ladder with paste and brush hardly inspires the breathlessness with which media-mad investors pant hungrily over the likes of the Internet or satellite television.

Perhaps they have not met Roger Parry, 43, the ex-journalist chief executive of leading outdoor advert company More O'Ferrall, and a compelling preacher of the attractions of bus shelters and billboards.

Coming away from an encounter with Mr Parry, one is suddenly struck by how many adverts there are in the street - on buildings, on billboards and, More O'Ferrall's specialism, on bus shelters. "Outdoors sells," Mr Parry sums up, in the epitome of the soundbite.

The company has 30,000 of its trademark Adshel shelters installed, and has plans to expand further in the UK, Ireland, Europe and further overseas, where it is eyeing fast-growing markets such as Thailand and Malaysia. "A lot of our growth will come from outside the UK," Mr Parry says, revealing a target of pounds 100m in sales, up from last year's pounds 87m.

Certainly Mr Parry has given investors something to be cheerful about since he formally became chief executive in February. The shares have roared ahead from the 470p level to more than 660p, fuelled by a strong recovery in the company's financial performance and the prospects of further growth.

The City credits Mr Parry with having awakened the rather staid company, which for years had a reputation that even insiders conceded as sleepy, even if it had a stellar portfolio of sites and lucrative contracts with transport authorities and local councils.

The changes he has wrought have been subtle. A revamped office environment, reducing the palatial dimensions of his predecessor's extensive lair, is perhaps the most obvious alteration. Mr Parry has also had an Adshel- festooned shelter installed on the ground floor, "to tell visitors and to remind staff exactly what it is we do", he says. Under Russell Gore- Andrews, his somewhat stolid predecessor, "there was no sign that we were an outdoor advertising company."

He has also hastened the development of a new computer system to track and monitor sites. "We can now tell clients how many sites nationwide are within 50 feet of a NatWest bank branch, for example, or how to reach young people by advertising outside clubs and cinemas." More O'Ferrall has also pioneered the use of bar codes on sites, as a way of keeping tabs on poster campaigns.

Such changes have started to give media buyers more confidence in the poster business. Mr Parry expects that forecasts of reasonably good consumer spending growth, coupled with outdoor advertising's more dynamic reputation among advertisers and agencies, will drive the business in the future.

He is nearly messianic on outdoor's attractions. "We need to show advertisers that we can be as effective as television," he says. Outdoor campaigns are perfect, he claims, for reaching a mass audience for new product launches. But more targeted campaigns can also be accommodated, through careful selection of sites.

To the likely relief of environmentalists, he is dead against relaxed rules about outdoor advertising in the countryside, which the Government is contemplating. "The last thing we want is an uncontrolled proliferation of outdoor sites," he says. "It devalues the medium."

Mr Parry was a credible, if not completely predictable candidate for the top job. A graduate of Bristol University, he spent a summer working as personal assistant to Charles and Maurice Saatchi, his first taste of advertising, before completing his studies at Oxford. A career in journalism saw him specialise in business, a grounding that stiffened an already strong entrepreneurial bent. In 1982, while still a working journalist, he helped launch an unsuccessful bid for the LBC radio franchise in London.

Two years later, he tried to convince the Government to sell British Rail's Slough-to-Windsor line to a consortium he helped fashion. Speaking recently at his Golden Square offices in Soho, next door to the new, lavish Saatchi brothers' headquarters, he concedes that his rail privatisation bid came "10 years too early".

Like so many other soon-to-be corporate executives, Mr Parry used a stint at a management consultancy, McKinsey, as the bridge to the business world, joining advertising company WCRS (later Aegis) after four years as a consultant. The City got to know him as the calming public face of Aegis in the UK, at the time when the French-owned group was fumbling badly.

He spent a critical three years in the early 1990s convincing City investors that Aegis could survive, despite the nearly disastrous acquisition binge that ended several careers in 1992.

"One of the lessons of Aegis was that focus brought success," Mr Parry says. "The original company was a super- market which we decided needed to focus on being solely a media buyer, with the goal of becoming Europe's leader." He went on to concentrate on radio, the country's fastest-growing advertising medium, and was part of the group that successfully bid for the LBC franchise in 1993.

Mr Parry and his partners sold out to Reuters, although he has maintained his interest through a non-executive directorship at Golden Rose, owners of the Jazz FM station.

Head-hunted in 1995, he says he immediately saw the need for focus at More O'Ferrall. While other companies might look to diversify into other media, Mr Parry says he will stay with what the company does best. "We don't need to be some full-service company. If shareholders want to invest in other media, they can do it. They don't need me to do it for them."

So Mr Parry will stick to the more prosaic task of growing the outdoor business, organically and through acquisition. He puts a big emphasis on research and responsiveness to clients, and is eager to trial new formats such as flat-screen TVs in bus shelters.

His enthusiasm shows. But does he miss journalism? "Sure, I miss the adrenalin and the risk - having to get it finished by 9pm. I also miss the level of access: we could and did talk directly to people in industry."

Now that he is one of those people in industry, he seems content to stay where he is. Ten years ago, he said he wanted to be the chief executive of a plc by the time he was 40. Having just about done it (he was 42 when appointed), he says "this is all fantastic fun. If it goes wrong, I'll have only myself to blame."

The only goal these days is to get it right. "We just aim to be the best outdoor advertising company in the world."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Sport
Two christmas trees ,Moonbeam (2L), Moonchester (2R) and Santa Claus outside the Etihad Stadium
footballAll the action from today's games
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas