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What About that Elephant in the Room?

When there's an elephant in the room you can't pretend it isn't there

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What About that Elephant in the Room?


by Nick Coston, OOH Media Buyer and Agent


“When there’s an elephant in the room you can’t pretend it isn’t there and just discuss the ants.” That quote’s not mine, a writer named Ellen Wittlinger said it. Unlike me, she’s a famous author and has nothing to do with billboards.

But in our industry, for the sake of covering all OOH, the out-of-home industry, there’s a behemoth of an elephant sitting in the corner. I don’t know how she got there but she’s been there since late February 2020. There are some of us that act like she’s gone. She almost left couple of months ago, but, well, we all know she’s back. And bigger. Her presence still affecting our industry and more than we are really saying.

Most importantly about the elephant being there? It’s not our fault, none whatsoever. The OOH companies and clients have done a spectacular job of fighting off and addressing this pandemic. We keep our salespeople pumped up, we make adjustments on our rates, we run awesome specials. We run a good amount of PSA’s addressing many of the issues surrounding the virus. We run them in Times Square. We run them on interstate bulletins, posters in rural areas, bus shelters, and on the back of semi-trucks. We step up our creative and make people want to notice our media. The out-of-home companies and clients are doing their part with incredible vigilance and new ideas. Cue the applause.

Nope it’s not our fault. Not most of us, that is. But Rosie the elephant, that’s my name for her, is still there despite our best efforts to push her out and return to normal. Rosie’s continued presence is on everyone, our government, from local to national, our churches, the press and finally bad actors trying to sell us bad, non-medical remedies. You add up just these factors and we continue to feed Rosie, so she ain’t leaving while the eats are good. We need to starve Rosie, cold turkey. Nothing, no hay, no fruit, no bark, no water. Ewwww, who eats bark?

And make no mistake, this is the time when our Industry governing bodies could really step it up, stop wasting time on milk-toast surveys, polls
that show 67% of surveyed adults “noticed” billboards over a 24 hour period, blah blah. While OOH sales people and managers are out there working there rear ends off, calling clients, making presentations over “The Zoom” as my Aunt Ida calls it, the best the OOH industry can do is research panels that show a high percentage of movie goers, they surveyed a whopping 1311 of them, and wow over 70% said they aren’t too worried about the new Delta variant. I’m so relieved. Of course they’re not worried, you took the survey when they’re in the movie theaters, they’re not worried they want to get out of the house buy some buttery popcorn, jujube’s and a Coke and watch a good movie. Of course they’re going to say it’s fine. Even I would give that a thumbs up . Who is not happy watching a movie in a freezing cold air conditioned theatre in the middle of summer? Furthermore the survey was conducted the last week in July. The way Covid swings, this is suddenly old news. Just today it was reported that retail sales nationwide were down double what was expected. Just ask people going to a movie tonight in the city of Chicago. They all have to be wearing masks. I cannot eat buttery popcorn through a mask, I’ve tried. Just today the Biden administration extended wearing masks while traveling thru airports, train & bus stations, and while traveling on planes, trains and busses. Thru late January 2022. That’s not fun, so much for the glamour of travel.

My point is, we are defeating the purpose of all these hard-working sales and marketing folks, defeating all the PSA’s that are starting to disappear, by having our industry say that “hey, everything’s ok, look at these numbers”.

No, everything is not ok. Better, but not ok. We are massaging numbers while just today over 129,000 new Covid cases hit the U.S. on July 18 there were only 34,000+ new cases. That was only 4 weeks ago.

So let’s stop kidding ourselves, stick with the plan, tell people what’s really going on, stop sugarcoating the situation that it looks like millions of people every day are out and about seeing our billboards, riding the rails, going through the airport, and get rid of this virus once and for all. Too many people as well as the smaller businesses are still suffering or gone for good. I love the way New York City is coming back but when I was there two weeks ago all my favorite little stores were gone. Try and find a small place to eat and you may walk four blocks. In Mid-town. We want them back. So let’s tell them real numbers and stop embarrassing ourselves.

Because every time our industry tries to put out information that is really out of our purview, Rosie just hunkers down and takes a nap.

As another writer, again not me, Donna Lynn Hope said, “Never ignore the elephant in the room. That’s rude, Play with it and introduce it”.

We must stop ignoring the elephant.

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