Inspiria Outdoor Advertising Takes Aim at the Crossroads of the World!
As the head of a company that specializes in outdoor advertising, Ronnie Ram faced a potential nightmare when the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in cities and states urging most of their residents to quarantine at home and only go out for food and other essentials. “It was tough, initially,” admitted Ram, who is president and CEO of White Plains-based Inspiria Outdoor Advertising. “I remember the initial shock of it on March 16 when we said, ‘Well, let’s pack up our laptops and let’s take our Voice over IP phones — they’ll work, just plug it in, as long as you have internet — and we need to regroup to be safe.”

Ram and his team needed to pause several of their campaigns and assure clients that they would still be available after the quarantine period was over. And while he acknowledged the economy and his industry was not bouncing back to the pre-pandemic normalcy, he expressed confidence in keeping Inspiria in motion.

“What we’re focusing on is essentially continuing to be a great company,” said Ram in a recent interview with Westfair Video Conversations, the YouTube channel for the Business Journal.

“Luckily, we had a good balance sheet and we run the company responsibly. And now it’s a question of how do you move forward.”

One area where Ram is pursuing at greater depth is digital signs, observing that the U.S. has been catching up to other nations in embracing this format.

“Europe is definitely ahead of us, as is Asia for a lot of advertising and media,” he said. “We’re going a lot more digital converting inside transit centers and very, very large billboards to the likes of which we haven’t seen before. We’re talking nonstress, high-quality, Times Square-level size billboards.”

Inspiria Outdoor NASDAQ Times Square AdvertisingRam sought to practice what he preaches earlier this month when he arranged for a digital advertisement for his company on a seven-story billboard in Times Square. The message appears to be working, as he noted he is planning strategies with companies that are looking to advertise only in Times Square.

Why would companies focus their advertising strictly in the oversized platforms in the heart of Manhattan?

“People could take photos or they can use it on social media,” he explained. “And this happens all the time. We are doing the campaign for a rum company out of Miami; and that one is a 28-day campaign. But their goal is not only to grow the brand, because Times Square is not just tourists — a lot of people work in that area now. We have people calling us. They want to buy a billboard just so they can take their photo in front of the billboard.”

Yet despite the XL-size of the billboards and having them in one of the priciest media markets, Ram stated that “the cost of advertising outdoor is probably one of the greatest surprises, meaning it’s a lot more affordable than people think. And that is one of the pleasures you have when you speak to a client about it.”

For Ram, the brilliance of outdoor advertising — either the state-of-the-art digital signs or the old-school stationary image on vinyl and paper — is that “you can’t fast forward it, you can’t skip it, you can’t delete it.”

He also advocated incorporating outdoor advertising into an overall marketing strategy.

“The greatest scenario is people do outdoor in concert with other media formats,” he said. “When somebody sees your ad outdoors, then they see it in print and then they listen to it on the radio and then they see it on social, the power is not one plus one equals two, it’s one plus one equals three — you keep on having that formula to the point that outdoor can increase the effectiveness of a lot of other media formats by 200% or 300%.”

While Ram said that consumer outdoor advertising was “an easier conversation” to pursue with companies, he is eager to further take on additional B2B projects.

He pointed to his recent work with New Jersey Turnpike-based billboards for Domino’s seeking drivers with CDL licenses. He has also coordinated several messaging campaigns from financial services companies thanking frontline workers — a sincere act, to be certain, but one that keeps the corporate brand front and center.

“The banks are not as interested in you or me opening up a checking account, but they are interested in us opening a business account,” he said. “They want to convert those people … because there’s a lifetime of value in that kind of client.”

As for the post-pandemic months, Ram is waiting for the trade conference circuit to come back.

“We had several conventions at the Javits Center that were canceled or postponed,” he said.

“We had another one in Las Vegas, which was B2B. If you had a conference targeting people that are in the software field, they wanted to advertise to everybody as they come in to the convention centers in Vegas to know that they’re going to be there. We execute those all over the country and, unfortunately, that’s going to be limited for a little while. But it will come back.”

  Published By Phill Hall on Westchester & Fairfield County Business Journal
Port Chester 30 Sheet Billboard Inspiria Outdoor utilizes a Port Chester billboard to recognize local heroes including healthcare and frontline workers across Westchester for their kindness and generosity during the COVID-19 crisis. Located between Abendroth Ave and S Water Street, President and CEO, Ronnie Ram, takes a responsible photo with his mask in front of this large scale board. Many businesses are finding creative ways to thank our healthcare heroes and this billboard is Inspiria’s way of giving thanks to their dedication and hard work to the community.
As seen in Adweek: When the federal government told the country to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, it was inevitable that out-of-home advertising would take it on the chin, as 40% of out-of-home advertisements lost their usual audiences, according to the industry’s trade group.
As the U.S. begins to slowly open back up and consumers crawl away from their self-quarantines, advertisers will respond. And as they do, the billboard may become more valuable than ever. Local travel never completely stopped, especially in suburbs and areas that don’t rely on public transportation. Many still make trips to the grocery store, gas station and other essential businesses, as well as enjoying a drive around town. That’s only increased since April, as Americans are traveling more across all 50 states. The average number of daily miles traveled for individuals is up 18%, from 9.8 miles during the week of April 6 to 11.5 miles during the week of April 20, according to Geopath, the measurement arm of the OOH industry. And more miles on the road means more opportunities for advertisers to catch travelers’ eyes. “What’s important in this pandemic is for brands to be nimble, get the message out at the right time more than ever. And digital, big billboards really provide an opportunity to update content basically on the fly,” said Anna Bager, president and CEO of the Out of Home Advertising Association of America. “A lot of budgets are going to shift to the roadside as a lot of Americans are going to choose to travel by car this summer.” Roadside billboard out-of-home traffic, defined as the kind of billboard you’d see off a highway 20-feet in the air, is down only 55% since the first week of March, according to Vistar, a programmatic technology company that focuses on out-of-home advertising. But between April 19 and 26, billboard traffic had increased by 26%. That figure should continue to rise as states like Texas, Georgia and Florida ease restrictions. Of roadside billboards, two-thirds of the brands that advertise are local, according to OAAA. Meanwhile, according to a survey taken by the U.S. Travel Association, 47% of participants said they would travel by car for a vacation after Covid-19 passes, up 35% when asked a week earlier. And 42% said they’d travel somewhere close to home, with 54% also saying they’d travel within the U.S. instead of traveling internationally. “What we see happening in the coming months is this pent-up demand,” said Dan Levi, evp and CMO of Clear Channel Outdoor Americas. “We’re all going insane and we want to go out, so we expect that as restrictions are relieved a bit we expect to see people leaving their homes pretty aggressively.” Conversely, trust in travel brands is low. According to the data firm Magid, trust in airlines, airports and cruise lines all fell below 40% in a consumer survey, with most consumers most comfortable traveling to destinations closer to home. Additionally, hotels traditionally market in their own backyards when times get tough. While some brands have taken note, the added cost of international travel and fear of exposure may keep many from America’s airports for quite some time. Already, airport OOH traffic is down 74% according to Vistar. Some airline executives have predicted that it could take as long as three years for airlines to recover. The TSA has even noted that their own traffic has dropped 95% over the course of the pandemic. “Without question, there’s a massive decline in the people who are in airports today because those flights aren’t going and most people aren’t traveling,” said Levi. “The reason we’re staying on top of the data is to help understand when the trend is changing. Our expectation is what will come first is business travel.”
Programmatic advertising allows for a brand to either launch or shutter a campaign instantly. Clearly, that’s useful in a sensitive climate, and as social distancing rules relax across the country. Instead of shelving previously scheduled campaigns, brands may stagger and instead target county by county as they open. “There’s certainly been quite a decline in overall out-of-home ad spending as we would expect,” said Leslie Lee, vp of marketing at Vistar. “But a lot of brands and advertisers are actually just shifting their strategy, looking at venues and locations that are shut down but shifting it where people are still out and about.” Levi at Clear Channel agreed. “We respond to the demands of our markets,” he said, noting that one of the best tools for a brand like Disney World or AMC Theater to tell its audiences that they’re back in action would be a publicly available medium like OOH. For airport OOH, even though traffic has fallen, some real estate is priceless, as building OOH inventory requires physical work and approval from legislators. For roadside brands like Cracker Barrel and McDonald’s, advertising space on the side of highways is prime real estate. And if they give that up, there’s no guarantee that they’d get it back, said Levi. “If an advertiser says to us, ‘We got to cancel, we’re out,’ then we’re going to sell that to someone else,” he said. “For those kinds of businesses that need the airports, the b-to-b businesses, that’s a key way to reach business travelers. They don’t want to lose that inventory.” As for the recovery, Levi isn’t convinced that there will be one best way to reach audiences as the country returns to normalcy, saying, “our product isn’t the billboard; it’s the people that are reached by the billboard.”