Red Star Outdoor —OOH Owner Today
OOH Owner Today —Red Star Outdoor
by Benny Taubman, OOH TODAY Reporter
Red Star Outdoor Advertising is one of Chicago’s go-to businesses for OOH advertising. Founded in 2001, the homegrown company currently owns and operates 50 faces in the heart of Downtown Chicago. It has locations in areas such as River North, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, West Loop, Wrigleyville, and Bucktown. Additionally, the company recently expanded westward and also owns a couple of faces in Salt Lake City, Utah. Dean Manone is a partner at Red Star and one of its co-founders. In an exclusive interview with OOH Today, he outlines the company’s history, its success and strengths, and more.
Q: Why are you in the OOH business?
A: “The truth is I had trouble securing interviews when I graduated from Arizona State University. My GPA wasn’t great, so big companies wouldn’t look at me. My father’s partner was on the Board of Gannett Outdoor and he helped me gain an interview. You could say I found the out-of-home industry by accident, and I am fortunate that I did.”
Q: Can you share the history of your company?
A: “My business partner, Scott Goldstein, and I have been friends since we were 17 years old. The story of how we met is best saved for another time, and drinks are a must. I was working for Patrick/Eller Media in NYC in National Sales and Scott sent a video of a building he wanted to buy for a production facility that was adjacent to the Kennedy Expressway. I remember this event like it was yesterday…
I was eating lunch with Ned Cullen and Chris Carr, and we watched the video of the building that Scott was considering buying and called him with our thoughts of installing a billboard on the roof. He liked the opportunity he saw in the numbers, but the acquisition of the building did not work out for multiple reasons. This event was the beginning of Scott doing a “deep-dive” into researching the out-of-home business and a few years later he was presented a property with an existing bulletin on the roof, and he made an offer to buy the building.
Once [he] accepted, Scott knew the time was right to give me a call. He said: “Dean, we need to do this and the time is NOW!” The timing may have been good for Scott, but I wrestled with the fact that Karl Eller had recently promoted me to be the President of the Tampa Bay branch, and my daughter was just born. You can imagine that a start-up was not what I looking to do! However, something about this opportunity was just too good to pass up, and everything Scott touched seemed to work out. I took a HUGE career risk and jumped on board. In 2001, Red Star Outdoor was born.
…River North, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, West Loop, Wrigleyville, and Bucktown. I call this the “Core of Chicago”
About 4 years later, we were approached by multiple companies about selling “all or part” of our portfolio of assets. We did sell about half our locations, and the buyer ended up being Clear Channel in April of 2005. We kept 25 faces and started to build once again.
In 2007, we realized that we had a “window of opportunity” to grow and needed help with strategic development. We recruited “My Brother Vinnie,” who had just helped Mark Van Fossan and Barry Rush build the Metrolights plant in Chicago. We spoke openly to them about Vince joining Red Star and, after some back and forth, we worked out an “exit plan” for him. Vince joined the Red Star team and Barry and Mark have been friends to this day.
In 2018, we were again approached to sell a portion of our locations, we did, and we stuck to the same formula of rebuilding. As of today, we have about 50 Faces in Downtown Chicago which include River North, Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, West Loop, Wrigleyville, and Bucktown. I call this the “Core of Chicago”. In December of 2019, just before “The Covid Shutdown,” we bought a package of Total Outdoor locations in Chicago. This transaction turned out to be concerning as covid hit and advertising revenue decreased by over 50% in Chicago.
We all know how challenging the Covid timeframe was with limited advertising revenue, and yet our fixed lease costs did not change. Scott and I made the strategic decision to double down during the pandemic by acquiring many of the leases that other companies were choosing to drop to lower their fixed lease costs. Looking at this now, it was a massive gamble that we made the right bet on. Recently, in 2022, we acquired a few locations in Salt Lake City, Utah. Purchasing locations outside Chicago is something that we always look at, but the timing was never right before this. After the 3 of us spent some time in Utah, we realized that Salt Lake City is a great opportunity and [purchased].”
…we realized that Salt Lake City is a great opportunity and
Q: What is your key to success in the OOH business?
A: “Successful entrepreneurs say, “YOU NEED TO TAKE RISKS” and we have lived by this. My advice to anyone getting started is to “listen, listen, listen”.”
Q: What is the greatest success or satisfaction that you receive from owning OOH?
A: “The best feeling is when I am called and asked [for] market advice on Chicago! It is also cool when a client calls and asks, “Is the Three-Headed Monster available in October?” or “Is The NOBU available during the summer?” It is fun when a location becomes iconic and is known by “a name” rather than a location number.”
It is fun when a location becomes iconic and is known by “a name” rather than a location number.
Q: Why do buyers and planners purchase OOH from Red Star?
A: “We are experts on the Chicago Market. We not only know our 50 locations, but we also know the other vendor’s inventory. I feel it is a huge advantage to live “IN the market” as compared to placing a buy through a big company Rep that is based in Los Angeles or New York. We know the changes that happen almost daily in Chicago that give us a “Home Field Advantage.” Also, I think we do a great job collaborating with clients on what their goals are in Chicago.”
Q: What are some future goals for your business?
A: “Our goals haven’t changed…. we want to continue to provide the best locations in Chicago and nurture the long relationships we have built with agencies so that they are successful with the goals of their advertisers.”
Chicago and Salt Lake City