DIEGO COSIO

Mexico 2021 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Diego Cosío, CEO of Clear Channel, about going 100% digital, growth plans, and innovative product development.

What do you hope to achieve in Mexico?

Our vision and mission is to help transform cities into smarter, friendlier, and more habitable places. In terms of the scope and definition of smart cities, which is popular around the world right now, we participate in several of the key elements that help a smart city evolve. One of them is communication, namely media communication. We began as an out-of-home traditional company with billboards, and now we are fully digital. Some 95% of our business in Mexico is comprised of digital billboards and digital street furniture. That gives companies greater flexibility in communicating their messages and in fact works via a cellular phone today. If one wants to post a message, advertisement, or even a social emergency communication from a local government, we can upload that onto our screens within hours. We are contributing to communication, and as we head toward greater digitalization of this communication, it becomes more flexible, user friendly, and relevant in terms of the geographic location, time of day, or time of year. One can develop a concept on digital media and digital content marketing, whether it on cellular phones or laptops, and that is what we would call a contextual market. That is an incredible advance in the way one communicates, markets, and send messages to the citizens of the city. The second one is what we promote openness and flexibility in helping cities with their street furniture such as bus shelters. In other cities around the world, we provide public intelligent bathrooms and intelligent waste deposits. The third factor, which is perhaps the most relevant for Mexico City, is that we own and operate ECOBICI, the public bike sharing system. Clear Channel was a pioneer, and we started the project not as a business but a service that we provide. We asked the city to let us operate the bicycle system in exchange for additional street furniture and out-of-home advertising. We also work with cities to share, analyze, and understand big data and mobility data. We work with leading providers of mobility data. For example, in Mexico we work with a company called sintrafico.com, which provides mobility information to the government. During President Lopez's daily speeches during the pandemic, when the government talked about mobility and how many people are out on the streets, it was given to them by Sin Tráfico. It has a massive sample of more than 20 million cellphones to understand how things move. Big data is a major player in what we do in cities. In addition to cities, we also work with private enterprise, shopping malls, stadiums, airports, and bus stations, where we can also provide advertising. Our vision is to go 100% digital; we are no longer into classical or traditional areas. Digital is not only the future but the present, as almost 100% of our business is now digital. Mexico City for us is 100% digital. We only sell digital out-of-home, and that provides us with great flexibility.

Is there an opportunity for billboards because people are oversaturated by online advertising?

It is not cannibalization; it is a complement, as they work well together. About a year and a half ago, Facebook did a study that found social media and out-of-home work extremely well. We have run interactive campaigns and time-related campaigns that have been extremely relevant, with a hashtag and real-time news. For example, during the World Cup a few years ago, we were showing the real-time scores on our digital billboards. At the end of the day, we aim to have the same flexibility that a cellphone has with the advantage of cellphones. Now, with ad blocking apps, the number of people who block ads is extremely high, and this motivates us to work with advertisers, marketing teams, and creatives to develop truly impactful, relevant, and attractive messages to the consumer. We have more than 500 advertisers. Going digital gives us the ability to show around eight to 10 advertisers at the same time in one hour.

What will be your main priorities for the coming year?

Growth and growth. It is extremely important, because the pandemic has hit us. However, the underlying issue is the economic slowdown globally, and that will hit us hard. We are all panicking about the health portion of the pandemic, but it has created one of the worst economic crises in history. For Mexico, it has been the worst decline in economic growth in almost 90 years since 1932. We need to reinvent the way we sell and merchandise ourselves. There is a logical opportunity to either merge or acquire smaller players. Such crises give companies the opportunity to quickly consolidate, and that is what we need to utilize. For example, right now we have been selectively acquiring digital billboards and digital locations in Mexico City and other cities during the pandemic. We focus on the top-10 cities of the country.

Can you tell us more about the products and services you offer in Mexico?

We are developing, for example, a new version of ECOBICI, a state-of-the-art bicycle that is hybrid and will replace electric bicycles. We are truly bringing the bicycle system into the 21st century, and it applies to not only the bicycles and cycle stations, but also the software and technology with which it runs. In street furniture, we are working with designers in Europe and China to start developing street furniture and even upgrade the quality of digital screens in line with the best in the world, such as Times Square. Times Square is the gold standard of screens and is the quality of digital out-of-home that we aim to have in the future.