streets ahead

Creating new horizons

For years, a choice phrase doing the rounds in Dublin was “meet you at the Metropole”. The cinema rivalled under Clery's clock as a city centre meeting place for a rendezvous. Nowadays, the word Metropole has a new meaning in the capital and it's entirely due to the product innovation people at JCDecaux HQ, located just outside Paris.

Metropole and Metropanel are two new formats helping to transform the advertising landscape and provide a compromise of sorts. While people travelling overseas are used to seeing huge hoardings alongside motorways, not surprisingly Ireland hasn't taken to such advertising behemoths and it's a tradition likely to remain for some time yet.

Pat Mannion joined JCDecaux as commercial director four years ago at the invitation of its local boss, Niamh Cleary. One of the things that was on the radar at the time was the potential for Dublin City Council (DCC) to go to tender with a radical new scheme.

The DCC tender came out in May 2005. Five firms, including all the big players, pitched. JCDecaux submitted its proposals in November and two months later they were awarded the contract. “It's like a company within a company,” Mannion says of the DCC project, which was in the news a lot generating attention they could have best done without.

Campaigners – the usual suspects – voiced their disapproval of the DCC contract. Even agency director Stuart Fogarty joined the debate by questioning the value of the deal in interviews on RTE radio. The storm blew over with an acceptance that the 15-year deal, allowing JCDecaux to supply 450 bikes in exchange for 72 panels, was a fair one.

“It's a win-win situation for everyone,” Mannion said. “The city put out a tender to fund public amenities through advertising on Dublin streets without costing the taxpayer a bob. The panels are the best available anywhere, be it Tokyo, New York or London. They are the first to run in Dublin where locations were decided on the flow of audience.”

Industry research (JNOR) showed that Metropoles deliver 42 per cent more audience than the average billboard. Nationally, Metropoles deliver 120 per cent more consumer contacts than a market average 48 sheet, while Metropanels boasts 42 per cent more than an average six sheet in Dublin, the study said. The DCC project is proceeding to plan.

There were fears that the deal may not proceed after a similar scheme in Paris fell victim to thieves and vandals. The French scheme was introduced 18 months ago with 20,000 bikes, but last month JCDecaux reported that 7,800 were stolen and 11,600 had been vandalised or damaged – costs which the group said they could no longer shoulder.



Pat Mannion, commercial director, JCDecaux, with sales and marketing executives Delphine Drean, Des Warner and Anita Cassidy. Based on IAPI rate card figures, outdoor spend came to €197 million last year and the medium had a 10.5 per cent share.

The DCC win followed on from JCDecaux being awarded the Luas contract by the Rail Procurement Agency (RPA) when the light rail service was launched in 2004. After the three-year contract was up, it was put out to pitch again and the company won it for a second time against CBS and Titan. The current four-year contract runs until 2012, with an option for the RPA to extend it by three years after which it must be pitched for again.

“Luas is not a big cash cow,” Mannion says, “it's small and in its infancy. But for us it was a statement, saying we could do something more than just 48 sheets. We were the kings of the billboard. When people think of outdoor, they think of a billboard and that's how it should be. But for us to take a big new contract in transport was great.

The Luas network comprises 40 trams, with 25 on the red line operating from outside Connolly Station to Tallaght and 15 on the green line running from St Stephen's Green to Sandyford, just down the road from JCDecaux's premises. The 15 trams on the green line were longer but the ones running on the red line have since been extended by the RPA.

Lobbying local councils became a demand for contractors in the Nineties. JCDecaux hired the services of political activist Fergus Finlay at WHPR. Apart from the impact signage has on the landscape, other issues of concerns to councils and community groups include possible obstructions to people in wheelchairs and anyone visually impaired.

Clear Channel got the go-ahead in Dun Laoghaire for a plan to allow 60 six sheets worth €10 million to the council but with a caveat linked to ten architecturally sensitive areas, including Dalkey. As well as pre-erection tests on any possible obstructions, an “appropriateness clause” was written into the contract to ensure only ‘suitable' ads run.

The emphasis was on investment and creating new outdoor, or as they prefer to call it nowadays, out of home products. For founder Jean-Claude Decaux it was about designers like Porsche, Bellini and Sir Norman Foster and ensuring his sons, Jean-Francois and Jean-Charles, carry on the tradition. Time magazine said as much in a recent cover story.

While outdoor is said to the world's oldest medium, getting the type of research together for advertisers seemed to take an age, with endless promises being made, a point which the agencies never tired of reminding them. In September 2005, it came about.

First known as the Joint National Poster Research (JNPR), it later became the Joint National Outdoor Research (JNOR). At long last, advertisers and their media buyers would be provided with accurate coverage and frequency along with access to net audience figures for multi-format campaigns. The JNOR is revered near and far.



Christine O'Brien, Johnson & Johnson, with Paul Enright, Vizeum, Gavin McGuinness, PML, Sile Duggan, JCDecaux and Irene Chaney, Owens DDB, alongside the Neutrogena Wave power facial cleanser ads on Luas, the first of their kind on the tram network.

The data goes beyond the traditional “opportunity to see” measure for media and reports on “likelihood to see” by applying factors such as illumination, panel size, angle to road and visibility distance to determine the audience likely to have contact with an ad. The coverage and frequency analysis, known as CAFAS, is updated on a quarterly basis.

Reach and frequency scores are available for new formats such as the Metropoles (measuring 8 square metres) and Metropanels (2.5 square metres). On Luas, advertisers can buy Tram Domination, allowing one advertiser ownership of the entire tram. At Christmas, Vodafone and its agency Carat bought the outside Luas wrap on a trial run.

Two years ago, JCDecaux set up a digital division for its operations in 54 markets. As Mannion says for health and safety reasons, digital won't work on the streets but it's ideal for major transport hubs and shopping centres. Titan have just launched TitanVision with overhead digital panels in Connolly, Heuston, Pearse Station and Busaras.

With longer daylight hours back again, its good news for non-illuminated sites and opportunities to see outdoor. It also means Mannion should have more time to spend on the golf course. But with so much going on at JCDecaux these days, he may have to limit his golfing to some extent, but it's a safe bet he'll get the chance to hit the odd fairway.


Mannion is a tall, broad-shouldered Dub once suited to the rough and tumble of GAA football but now favouring the less strenuous game of golf. The walls in his office are testament to a love of both sports with photos of his cup-holding experiences on Hill 16 in Croke Park and alongside his golfing pals at TABS fundraisers in Woodenbridge GC.

His physique may have come in handy if his career had proceeded as his father had hoped it would and he had become a prison officer, a good pensionable job during the recessionary days of the Eighties. He had just completed advertising studies in Rathmines and course director Michael Hayes rang him to say he may have a job from him.

The job was as a bicycle courier at O'Connor O'Sullivan. This led to him taking an interest in copywriting at the agency and from there he moved to radio and TV production at Brian Cronin & Associates and later the Creative Department and AFA.

It was while he was at AFA they lost Ulster Bank, an account they had had for aeons.

Mannion was out of a job. Sport came to the rescue. Sound man Noel Storey made up a demo tape for him which he took to Martin Storey (no relation to Noel) at 98FM. His in-depth knowledge of sport stood to him until he got caught out on a question about cricket – Storey's area of expertise and he having played interprovincial for Leinster.

Nonetheless, sports editor Aidan Cooney gave him a job doing reports, which later became copywriting and later again, sales. Director Paddy Halpenny told him to shake himself up and concentrate on making sales his number one goal, which he did. His boss was Dan Healy and he ended up spending almost ten years in all at 98FM.

There was the whole licence bid and Denis O'Brien's canniness. When he was there, Esat Telecom was Mark Roden's desk in the basement. It ended up that 98FM became one office in the Esat building. When it came for Mannion to move on in 2003, he decided on newspaper sales and with Ireland on Sunday (soon rebranded Irish Mail on Sunday).

“A few newspapers had knocked on the door and asked me if I was interested,” Mannion says. “What appealed to me about Associated Newspapers, it was new and different. John Thompson was there and he was quick to put his arm around my shoulder. He knew newspapers and how to play the game.” There was a UK master and an Irish master.

Sales went from 30,000 to 160,000 and yes CDs were involved. But it was a shake-up of the old brigade using guerrilla tactics. Two years on, he got a call from Niamh Cleary “out of the blue” and she persuaded him to move to JCDecaux as commercial director. There was lots going on with new research, product developments and new openings.

JCDecaux is the preferred bidder for larger formats in Dun Laoghaire so Metropoles are in line to feature on borough streets in due course. For a man whose start in the business began on a bike during the last recession, he now finds himself back at the handlebars in the current downturn. With the DCC bikes rolling out soon, it's a case of pedal on.

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