Download our
media kit
< Back

Barry Frey: The man behind the digital out-of-home advertising revolution

Barry Frey, CEO of the DPAA, thought's on the future of out-of-home marketing, the industry, and how to get ahead

September 15, 2020

This interview is part of our series: Something to write Out-Of-Home About. Every month, we’ll be interviewing innovative marketers and innovators thinkers on their perspectives. Click here to subscribe to a monthly reminder for this series.

Barry Frey’s passion for advertising has taken him from the streets to the C-suite—literally. 

Frey got his start in advertising by patrolling the streets of New York City with a staple gun and armful of posters when he started a business called Post It. Some three decades later, he’s the President and CEO of the influential Digital Place Based Advertising Association (DPAA). 

In between, he’s worked for the NBA, USA Networks, the Hallmark Channel, Cablevision, and for Ted Turner. Under Frey’s leadership, the DPAA has seen its membership blossom and its influence boom. Frey describes it as a “muscular” trade association that not only champions the industry but also connects members to opportunities and accelerates their business (more on this later).

Read on for Frey’s thoughts on the future of the industry, the role of sales in a programmatic world, and what books advertising pros should be reading.

On the origins and future of the DPAA

In a sense, the origins of the DPAA can be traced to Frey’s days going on sales calls with advertising titan Ted Turner, where Frey learned about the power of ubiquitous marketing campaigns.

“We’d be explaining how people buying Toyotas were watching 30 channels, not just the three networks that were on the media plan,” he says. The audience was in more places then agencies and brands realized.

“I’ve always noticed when technology changed media and then how the new, innovative media changed consumer patterns. And for better or for worse, I was usually on that leading edge helping advertisers and agencies understand and embrace these changes.”

That, in a nutshell, is what excites him about the DPAA, which has grown to 162 global  members under his leadership.

“We began with the digital natives,” he says, “but now it’s most of the significant companies that have anything to do with OOH.”

Looking forward, Frey sees two main sources of new members: OOH businesses of all kinds in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and digital programmatic businesses worldwide.

The two biggest challenges facing digital OOH today

As you might expect, Frey is a big evangelist for digital OOH media. Its key advantage, he says, is that it combines the best of old and new media.

Like television and other older avenues of communication, digital OOH is a one-to-many medium that is “brand safe.” Unlike most forms of digital advertising, businesses don’t need to worry about their content appearing alongside some of the worst of what the internet has to offer.

“If you have an ad on a website and the site is filled with hate messaging, that affects the ad,” he says.  “As the great Canadian media philosopher and pundit deftly stated ‘The Medium is the Message!’”

But digital OOH, Frey says, also offers rich audience data like other digital media—and that combination is unbeatable. 

“One of the significant hurdles is that OOH has been siloed in the agencies,” he says. “The challenge is to educate the industry that we can deliver targeted impressions and showcase ROI.”

The other major challenge he sees for digital OOH is making it easier to buy.

“We need to take the friction out of the OOH industry and make it more automated,” he says. “When you take the friction out, research shows that major brands will spend 20% of their budgets on OOH.” 

To Frey, that means programmatic buying is central to the future of the industry. 

Programmatic: the death of the salesman?

Frey is gregarious and personable—something of a born salesman. That’s one reason he’s so proud that the DPAA does more active business development than a typical trade association. 

“We started as a normal trade association, but we’ve  turned it into what some call a muscular trade association,” he says. “We act more like a media sales and marketing organization.” That means the DPAA spends as much time connecting media owners and advertisers as it does working on industry advocacy. 

But if the future of digital OOH is programmatic sales, do digital OOH businesses still need sales teams? 

“Absolutely”, says Frey. Digital startups might be able to begin with programmatic-only sales, but Frey argues that there are three kinds of sales that should  always be happening at most OOH businesses.

First is “high touch.” These are generally your biggest accounts built on consultative relationships. They come with bells and whistles and might involve sponsorships or other long term  arrangements. 

Then there’s “low touch,” which is where automated processes can shine and realize efficiencies. They need some human direction, but the per-account time spent is low.

Finally there’s “medium touch,” which is between the first two. 

A strong sales team, as Frey sees it, is a huge asset for high- and medium-touch accounts.

The future of the industry is measurability 

Frey is bullish on the role of measurability and data in the industry, as he sees it. 

“The smart out-of-home operators see that the more data they provide and more accountability they show, the easier it is to grow ad budgets,” he says. “Conversely, the media agencies and brands are really demanding greater accountability from media owners, so there is pressure on both sides.”

He sees the role of the DPAA as being a catalyst for this shift, supporting both media owners and agencies to embrace these changes.

“At the DPAA, we really appreciate supporting and leading leaders in this space,  like Vertical Impression”

On the power of sponges

Frey offers two tips to those starting their careers in the DOOH world.

“It’s very important for young people to be sponges,” he says. “We learn by asking, not by talking.”

Second, do your best to keep up with media in all its manifestations.

“Digital OOH is very entrepreneurial,” he says. “It’s very important to be aware of all media. It’s easy to focus on just OOH or digital OOH, but real growth comes from understanding how all the media work on the supply and demand side”

“Be a student of all media.”

BONUS: Barry’s book picks

With characteristically cosmopolitan taste, Frey mentioned three books when we asked him to suggest one that people in the OOH industry should read.

The first two are Understanding Media and The Medium Is the Massage (that’s not a typo), both by Marshall McLuhan, the famous Canadian media theorist referred to earlier.“

“So much that was predicted in those two books is relevant today,” Frey says. 

The third book is New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. The book imagines a fictional future for NYC, most of which is permanently underwater thanks to climate change.

“It’s a post-apocalyptic challenge for New York, and scarily similar to what I feel is what we are going through today with coronavirus,” he says.

Every month, we’ll be interviewing innovative marketers and innovators thinkers on their perspectives. Click here to subscribe to a monthly reminder for this series.

Sign-up for the next interview

Start planning a smarter campaign today.