Why A Static OOH Media Firm Finally Caught The Digital Ferry, With Outdoor Solution Group’s Rosemary Valenti
July 20, 2022 by Dave Haynes
New York City is a massive out of home media environment, but much of the attention gets directed to the giant LED boards in Times Square, when there all kinds of other interesting and high opportunity environments that also generate a LOT of eyeballs … like the ferries across the Hudson River.
Outdoor Solutions Group has many, many years under its belt doing static advertising on the ferries that take commuters back and forth from New Jersey – from wraps on boats and shuttle buses to ad posters and big banners in the ferry terminals.
The company had been slow-walking its digital plans for a variety of reasons, but when COVID hit, the company decided it was time to start converting some of that printed stock to digital. Part of that was triggered by the simple observation that as the economy and riders started coming back from lockdowns, digital interest and buys were coming back faster.
I spoke with Rosemary Valenti, who has spent a long career in New York OOH media circles and fully took over the business when her husband died a few years ago, after a long scrap with cancer. She now has a son helping her out, and partnerships with established digital partners in Broadsign, Pearl Media and TSItouch.
In this podcast, we get into why Valenti’s firm took the digital plunge, its challenges and benefits, and her plans to convert more of the print positions to quickly refreshed digital displays.
Rosemary Valenti: I’m Rosemary Valenti. I’m the CEO of an Outdoor Solutions Group in New York, and I’ve been in this out-of-home world for a very long time. I started this company with my husband, Mark Valenti in 1996, but we were both in the out-of-home world prior to that, we were in companies that are now considered outfront media.
And your son’s still involved in the business, right?
Rosemary Valenti: Yes, actually, Matthew was an infant when I started OSG, and then by the time he was 15 we had him, as a courier almost, going in, dropping off mail, that’s how he earned his allowance, did some inside of the ferry postings and he was an intern, he was great. He learned a lot of the business and now he is Vice President of Outdoor Solutions Group.
Nice, and you’ve run it on your own since you lost your husband?
Rosemary Valenti: Yes, in 2018, we unfortunately lost Mark to cancer. I took over the helm, but Mark and I did this for years. I had a backseat for a while, and he was more in the forefront when the kids were little, and then I would in those say 10 years, we were just in tandem running it pretty much, and then when he got sick, we needed a little help, and then after that, I just started to run it and then Matthew had some experience at Clear Channel Outdoor for a little bit, and then came in and joined forces with me and is instrumental in everything that we do together. He’s great.
Good. It’s nice to have him involved, I guess.
Rosemary Valenti: Yeah, even my other son has posted things. It was a family affair for a while. But that’s not my other son’s career path. But we do all participate in this.
Your environment is transit, and particularly the ferries, along the New York waterways, correct?
Rosemary Valenti: Yes, New York Waterway Ferries are our business partner, and they specialize in ferrying people from New Jersey waterfront properties or New Jersey over to Manhattan, and then we have locations in Midtown and Brookfield Place, and it was static for a long time, and then we decided to introduce the digital, which we needed to do, especially after COVID.
We got shut down for a little while in COVID, and had to rebuild it from the ground up, basically. So we had a lot of entertainment, a lot of Broadway, so we lost everything, and also New York Waterway had only essential service for a few months, and so they were shut down, and so we slowly have come back just like many transit systems, but in New York we were hit hard so it took us a long time to get this back up and we’re there now. But we took a hard look at the company and we saw digital coming back faster and bouncing back faster than any kind of traditional transit, so we implemented converting some of our traditional, basically if you wanna call theem street furniture, but they’re six foot by four foot, that’s what we pulled out in some of the terminals, and we put in a 75 inch Samsung QMRs which really is helpful to have, you can send creative right from the office desk.
Yeah, really. So why do you think digital was coming back faster than static?
Rosemary Valenti: I think people wanted cancellation clauses, there were less production fees. You could easily take something in and out, you can change creative. They were a lot of people who were speaking to the public about COVID through out-of-home and we didn’t have that in the beginning. We didn’t have that opportunity, but you saw advertisers doing messaging about COVID, and then saying, we’re back and all different things. But we were shut down and so when we were coming back, we wanted to make sure we had something like that and what Waterway also wanted that, they have their own spot, they can alk to their customers through us because we put them inside the ferry terminals, and we also put them inside the ferries themselves.
Yeah. So you have various terminals, they’re like small airport terminals with concourses and you’ve got what used to be light boxes are now digital, and then you’ve got, I think portrait displays that you’ve got on the actual ferries?
Rosemary Valenti: Yes, we did everything portrait display. So our in wall in the ferry terminals, which is really in the waiting areas and some of the pathways that they walk through to get into and then to get onto the slips. Those are 75 inch portraits, and then in one of the areas we have like maybe a 55 inch where some of the seating is facing, and then when they get into the ferries, they’re 43 inch and they’re right at the entrance and exit door. So you come into the lower level of the ferry and that’s where our screens are, everything’s portrait. We figured one piece of creativity is easier.
We’re trying to do a two minute uninterrupted loop through the whole system, so an advertiser gets the entire system, which then can give them 90% of the ridership almost, if you think about that, they’re in the highest traffic ferries, and then they’re at the terminals. Right now, on the New Jersey side, in Port Imperial / Weehawken, and in Midtown and in these ferries, that’s our phase one. We intend on putting in some more digital. We just have to do it in phases.
You’re also still recovering from COVID, right? Not health wise, but business wise.
Rosemary Valenti: Yes, that’s why we’re doing it in phases. But much of the ridership is back and it’s a little bit different. It used to be more Monday to Friday. Now they’re seeing those as many people on a weekend, then there might be a Tuesday probably because of split work weeks, right? So I think people are taking advantage of this city more because they don’t have to go every day to work.
Our partners, New York Waterways, they’re seeing almost a steady flow back in, it’s just different for them, which is great.
Is the ferry ridership profile a bit different from what you would see on Long Island rail, or particularly the subway?
Rosemary Valenti: Definitely different from the subway. I would say it’s an affluent audience. So I would say maybe more a Metro North that goes up to Westchester and somewhat like a Long Island railroad. We have a very affluent and high education especially there’s people that live on the waterfront. So some of those waterfront areas in New Jersey have all been built up into these million dollar apartments, so it’s really becoming a beautiful area. They have a beautiful skyline view, and then what Waterway did is once they land in Midtown, they provide a complimentary bus service to go Midtown down 34th street, 42nd, 50th. You take your route and they make it, basically from home to the office so you can circumvent subways, you can circumvent everything, they call it door to door, and it’s a complimentary bus.
So those are the buses that we wrap. They have a fleet of buses along with the fleet of ferries and then downtown Brookfield place area and Wall Street, it’s all pedestrian, you walk to your offices from there, cuz it’s much closer. So they don’t have to take mass transit really.
And I would assume that if I think about being on New York subways, that a great many of the ads are for English as a second language courses and career colleges and things like that, I’m guessing that you’re getting different kinds of brands who are advertising on your screens?
Rosemary Valenti: I would say that the subways have a mix of different types of advertisers, but we’re getting high end real estate, we’ve been getting some alcohol brands, we had HubSpot where they wrapped a ferry and they went onto the digital and they wrapped a bus. So that’s a CRM. So we’re getting certain things like that, and Broadway have come back. We have Disney’s Lion King and Aladdin, and we’re getting more interest in that sector again. But, we had lost a lot of that so that’s coming back and we just got Fire Islands, Hulu. So they did like a partial ferry wrap, but they also got onto the digital and obviously streaming is like digital. So that’s great, and they had done a big pride event here. So we had sponsors of that pride event and then they were also on our ferries and the ferries were chartered to get to that pride event in Governor’s island. It was called pride island. Yeah, there’s different types of advertisers that we would get high end real estate that they might not get in the subway.
I’m guessing that long before you decided to start the conversion over to digital, you were getting banged on by no end of display and software companies to make that conversion quicker. What was holding you back?
Rosemary Valenti: Strategy, trying to figure out exactly what to do because there were options. Do we do a big spectacular, do we do LED instead of the screens, so we really wanted to figure out where should we go? And as we looked at our own dioramas on our walls, right at eye level, and we said, it make perfect sense to update these into digital because they’re sitting on benches next to them, they’re buying tickets next to them, they’re walking past them when they’re trying to get to the bathrooms. They’re all in the area, in the ferry terminals that make the most sense, and inside the ferries, it was absolutely an easy decision to just put these right at the entryways. So you come in, you sit down and you face our screens.
Is it technically challenging to put them in something like a ferry because of the salt air and everything else?
Rosemary Valenti: Yes, actually, we worked with TSI Touch and they gave us these anti-glare screens and protective coverings, so we needed to work on a design with that. Even in the ferry terminals, they have a wall of glass that you are sitting in and there’s a wall of glass facing the Hudson river. So we needed anti-glare. We wanted to make sure they were protected with tempered glass because people do roll their suitcases sometimes. So we needed to get all these components factored, like what do we need in this to put this in?
And then TSI Touch actually supplied us with them once we told ’em what we were looking for, and then we had to deal with the design of our ferry terminals. So in Midtown, there was a lot of steel. So they helped us fabricate the enclosures that kind of go with the flow and looked somewhat like the enclosures we had on a more updated version of the enclosures, and same with the Port Imperial / Weehawken, we did a a black covering so it looked like a giant iPhone. But we had that kind of color on the walls prior. So they were instrumental in helping us with the design and they also made sure that the heat could escape. There’s all these elements that you have to do when you have to put these in, then you have computers in the walls, and I would say that when you talk about inside the ferries, we have had to get to a cradle poin because there’s no LTE. So you had to figure out how to get the LTE across the Hudson and back every 20 minutes, and there is electrical issues on ferries, just like in trucks.
Yes, they call it dirty power!
Rosemary Valenti: Dirty power! That’s exactly what they call it. Yeah, we had to work with Marine electricians to make sure we had the right surges or something that may deal with a low power instead of a high power. So that’s some stuff I didn’t understand, but now I understand.
The good news is, you had your baptism in fire. So if you can put screens with everything involved on a bouncing, rocking ferry, going across the Hudson, putting them in a static, enclosed building like a ferry terminal should be a walk in the park?
Rosemary Valenti: Yeah. That’s why we did the ferry terminals first. Yes, we had to learn about the ferries and deal with ferry operations and you know, they’re using these vehicles, you gotta take them outta service for us to install them. It’s not as easy, but they’re very helpful and they wanted this and we work well together, but I didn’t understand a lot of Marine things, and I’ve heard terminology that I never understood, like “give her a splash” and that means a ferry going back into the water.
And then for software, we use Broadsign for content and programmatic because that’s something that everybody’s taking advantage of and we wanted to get involved in that as well. So Broadsign educates you, they have the support staff, they teach you everything, and they’re fabulous to work with. So we’re really getting dynamic advertising.
I would imagine that’s another baptism in fire you had. If you’re been doing static advertising for 20 plus years, to all of a sudden wade into this Labyrinth, I would almost call it the programmatic world, must have been bewildering, cuz I try to write about it and I’m bewildered.
Rosemary Valenti: It is. I think that’s why I think my husband was even approached prior to that and didn’t wanna do it in the beginning. He saw a lot of companies like that start and then maybe fail. So we waited quite some time, but my son was at Clear Channel and he was selling Times Square billboards and things like that so he understood digital more than I did. So he was a great asset for that, and then we partnered with Pearl Media last year, and they also helped us understand this and they helped strategize with us and we ended up using one of their guys who branched off on his own Daniel, Oak city Integrations is his company and he helped us with the software and guided us in the implementation of all of this.
Okay, so you do media sales through Pearl and you also get backed up through programmatic buys?
Rosemary Valenti: We have a rep deal with Pearl Media, so they help us with the advertising as well as ourselves, and programmatic goes through Broadsign, and that makes that side very easy. So yeah, that’s how we are getting an influx in sales between OSG’s staff and then Pearl’s sales staff.
Because you are in terminals and ticketed environments, people go through turnstiles or something like that, I would assume you’ve got a pretty reliable one traffic and impressions count, and you wouldn’t have to rely so much on venue analytics?
Rosemary Valenti: We joined Geopath and they rated not only our buses on the streets, but our dioramas that were existing and then our digital, it was switched out to digital. So we worked with Geopath and we have over 2 million monthly impressions per advertiser, because there’s a lot of signs in there. We launched with 27 screens. So because we were rated first with Geopath as static and then converted existing things, it was pretty easy for them to help us. We explained that it was 15 second spots within a two minute loop and they could easily do the conversion and help us with that. All advertisers look for the audited so we give audited impressions.
And are you with other associations as well?
Rosemary Valenti: We worked for the buses, which are static, with Street Metrics and they helped audit those, and OAAA is somebody we belong to but that’s just a membership organization. They had done a study once on one of our ferries, which was all state. So we’ve seen those studies. But they’re a good source.
Do you think you could have stayed as just analog or now that you’ve gone the digital route it makes sense?
Rosemary Valenti: We knew we needed to go digital, we didn’t wanna stay analog. We wanted to be updated. It’s just that my husband’s health was a problem, and so it held us back the 17 months he was sick, so it held us back. But then, when COVID hit, we knew we needed to convert.
And now that you’ve done it, you talked about the quick turn on being able to change ads and things like that. Have you been able to assess the ROI value of it? Like you’ve done it and it makes sense?
Rosemary Valenti: Yes, it makes sense. It happened faster than I thought, some of the return on investment, which is great. So we’re seeing the digital take off and people really like it. Like I said, they can just send you a file, we can push play.
We’ve even had like the Yankees come in for two day stints and then two day stints, like when they first open season and then a bobblehead thing. So those short term campaigns we could never have done with static so it really helps.
Yeah, I would assume with the static thing, particularly if you’re gonna replace a bunch of light box posters with new print ones that don’t turn that quickly, it’s like numerous days, at least?
Rosemary Valenti: You mean just to post?
Well, if somebody says, “I would like to do this” then the creative’s gotta be done, and then it’s gotta be printed, then it’s gotta be sent to the site, then somebody’s gotta switch it out and everything else, it doesn’t happen in half an hour.
Rosemary Valenti: Right. You need an install team, you need to print them. Your print could take a few days for us, say a regular diorama, which is six foot by four foot, but it could take several days to print a bus or a ferry and it takes over a day to wrap a bus. It takes a day to wrap a bus and a ferry. It could be one day if it’s good weather, but with the ferries you’re dealing with weather conditions.
But the combination, they’re starting to like the combination because you get to hundred percent share a voice with your static, and then you get this digital where you can change creative. We’ve had the cannabis expo run with us. They had four different creatives on the walls that were running, simultaneously and then they gave us some static. So the combination, they knew they were always gonna be there, and the diorama sat down in Brookfield place, but they were part of a loop inside the ferries so they were getting on the wall and in the ferries as well as some traditional and that combination is really nice.
There was a company that didn’t last, maybe it was COVID, but I think it was more about regulations, that was floating an LED display on a barge on a river. I can’t remember whether it was the East River or the Hudson.
Rosemary Valenti: It was on the Hudson. They they made it illegal. I think it still may exist out in Florida or something, but…
Yeah, I think they’re in Miami.
Rosemary Valenti: It was removed because it was interrupting the Hudson river view for one of those people that paid a lot of money to have that view, and this light is flashing in your giant windows, they all contacted the mayor and the governor and they got that removed. I think, to them, it was unsightly. It was very bright. In their offices, you could see it going up and down. That’s why ours is static, it’s static on the ferries, it’s not something that’s lit up like that. It’s still a fabulous 84 foot long message on the ferries, but to put the digital on the water and then flash it up into both waterfront sides of the river when these people, I think, pay all this money to have a waterfront view, but imagine just putting your kid to sleep or something, and then you these lights are flashing in the window. I can’t even imagine all the things that they were hearing, but they did force them out of New York.
Yeah, I was just curious because if you are doing static, doing basically vehicle wraps, but on a ferry, if you could do that with LED that was permanently there and just changed the file, even if it wasn’t flashing, it was just solid, that would be very efficient and maybe have an ROI down the road, but then you might face the same heat.
Rosemary Valenti: Yeah, that’s not something that we’re interested in. I would imagine some of those screens have to use generators, which could make things even louder, or you’re on the waterfront, you’re bumping around, but it probably is taxing. Think about if it’s a generator that has to use gas and now you’ve got this whole diesel/fuel issue right now going on with how much everything is, but I think that it’s too invasive, the digital going inside the waterfronts, their views.
I think there’s too many voices saying we don’t want this.
How competitive is the media environment in New York? I know it has been like that for a very long time, but I’m curious because there’s just so many different ways that people are putting advertising on.
Rosemary Valenti: I would say it’s very competitive because you have traditional billboards going down the West side highway, you have all the transits, you have the subways, you have buses. So we’re all fighting for the budgets. But we are the only ferry wrap program but there is digital inside of some of the other ferries that run around, but all out-of-home in Manhattan is competitive. We’re all looking for an edge.
Yeah, and they’re all coming out of COVID, just the way you guys are as well, right?
Rosemary Valenti: We’re all coming along. I think I think we’re pretty much back. We’re one of the top markets, right? So if we’re gonna be anywhere, it’s nice to be here because we have a lot of people, but I would say that I’m seeing that people are contacting me daily to ask me about my rates and my business and that’s a plus because we did go a while in COVID when it was deafening.
Are you looking to expand or is it more about building out the digital side of the portfolio you already have?
Rosemary Valenti: We are looking to expand on the digital inside of our terminals more and we’re partnered with Pearl so we’re strategizing if there’s other opportunities. They have some good stuff too. So they’re right i near where we are so it offers this great synergy.
We’re looking to expand. We buy again, we still wanna, we still have a little bit more phase to build out just with New York waterway.
All right. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
Rosemary Valenti: It was great to speak with you too. I appreciate it.
All right. Thanks for your time.