Advertising too much clutter on billboards

Fady Mohammed says 20 per cent to 30 per cent is the share of outdoor advertising in the UAE (SATISH KUMAR)

A drive down Sheikh Zayed Road will demonstrate the proliferation of outdoor advertising, but those in the industry have identified a lack of regulation as a barrier to future growth.

Fady Mohammed, Managing Director of 24 Group, which markets outdoor advertising through 24 Media, told Emirates Business the sector is struggling because of clutter. He called for government intervention and for active advertising firms to become their own advocates and form an association for outdoor advertisers.

Is the market in the UAE and the region reaching saturation point with outdoor advertising and as a result creating confusion among consumers?

I would rather call it a clutter than saturation. We have to thank the authorities for stepping in to set guidelines for the industry to systemise the outlook and size when it comes to outdoor advertising. However, the matter is still out of control.

There has been a lot of talk about government regulation of the sector. Has this been a success?

Lately it has been a matter of supply and demand for finding spaces to place outdoor ads. As long as demand is above supply, things will remain this way. Prices will go up, the creativity level will not be controlled and the number of sites will not be regulated. As Dubai's new image has started to rise internationally, there have been dramatic changes compared to five years ago. However, we are all working in a healthy market and atmosphere and I believe we are all working under the rules and no one is attempting to break the regulations.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have launched real estate authorities to regulate advertising in the sector. How has this impacted outdoor advertising?

Such new regulations do not affect us as an outdoor advertising company. Dubai is full of potential and Abu Dhabi is following suit now. But launching real estate authorities is a step forward in protecting consumers.

How does the growth of outdoor advertising in the UAE compare to other media outlets such as radio and television?

This is very difficult to quantify because the outdoor market has suffered from disorganised exposure, as I mentioned, because outdoor market belongs to private and government sector. You cannot limit the sources, the quantity, the potential, turnover, and the figures. Outdoor is therefore excluded from the media statistics and surveys because there is no monitoring system.

Would you like to see more regulation of the outdoor advertising market?

We need regulations for outdoor media. It is a huge honour that our company has been selected – among all the other clutter in Dubai – to be one of the consultant firms for the new regulations book that would frame the outdoor media sector in the future. We are talking about revising a manual that was written back in the 1980s.

But it has been updated on a frequent basis. I believe we need more than just an update, we need a dramatic change in the regulations that define the outdoor media market. We need more of an identified authority to correspond with. There is just too much bureaucracy. You can obtain a clear indication of spending by companies such as Nakheel or Emaar. But when you say spending on outdoor advertising in the region was $600 million (Dh2.2 billion) last year, I have to wonder who says that and based on what?

What is your best estimate for the percentage of spending on outdoor advertising from total advertising expenditures in the UAE? What is the expected growth rate?

I would guess 20 per cent to 30 per cent is the share of outdoor advertising in the UAE. For the growth rate expectations, you cannot give an indication of such information because the whole market needs to be re-shaped and regulated. I believe there should be a set of pre-qualifications imposed on each and every outdoor media company in order to be listed or authorised to work in this sector. We also need more dynamic management of outdoor advertising. In other words, I would call for the establishment of an outdoor advertisers' association.

What are the main challenges facing your sector?

Lack of calibre in employees, but this is a problem of politics. Also, if you want to grow any business in the world, things have to be calculated. If my cost of living is skyrocketing, how can I fill up the staffing shortage? We also need to educate people about quality of work. Once the advertisers believe in quality rather than quantity, then I can supply them with high calibre people. But if it is a quantity issue, then I have to select whatever is cheap, wrap it up, make it rosy and then sell it to them. The reason why we cannot attract people is because the market is not educated enough to allow us to attract high quality people. If you look at those spending the money on outdoor advertising, you can count them on your hand.

The rest are quantity-oriented, rather than quality-oriented. When it comes to attracting Arab talent, it is becoming very difficult since they are well paid where they are now compared to how much they would get paid by coming here.