As part of a restructure unveiled in January this year, listed outdoor business QMS Media Group promoted John O’Neill from chief sales officer to QMS CEO Australia. The move was to allow QMS founder Barclay Nettlefold to focus on future growth of QMS, including international opportunities.
O’Neill has worked in outdoor for over 20 years and he started in a business called NLD, which was run by David Nettlefold, Barclay’s father. The business had a national footprint of large-format static billboards. NLD grew substantially over the years, adding shopping centres and airports to its portfolio of assets. Network Ten eventually acquired NLD (see Gardening Leave below) and O’Neill moved on.
He later started his own outdoor business called Media Puzzle. He quickly built a portfolio of attractive sites with part of the business being eventually acquired by WPP.
Brendon Cook’s then-listed outdoor business Network agreed to acquire Media Puzzle from WPP (which owned 55%) and management (which owned the other 45%). That business became known as oOh!media.
O’Neill told Mediaweek that after seven years, he and Brendon Cook “were going in different directions” and he decided to depart oOh!.
After leaving oOh!media, John O’Neill stood aside from the outdoor sector for 18 months as part of a non-compete clause before diving right back in.
He headed for QMS where he had history with founder Barclay Nettlefold and the two outdoor veterans set about building QMS.
“Over the years the business has attracted a really strong team of people who have worked with us over a long period of time,” said O’Neill.
Despite what must be a number of significant paydays across what he calls “a bloody long time”, O’Neill still has an enthusiasm about outdoor that keeps him coming back.
“My best friends, closest mates and family members all work in the industry. I enjoy the day-to-day process of gaining a sale and I really enjoy the nurturing process with younger kids we are bringing through.”
As to why outdoor specialists seem to stay with the sector, O’Neill told Mediaweek: “The outdoor market has traditionally been a more difficult sell. When planning or strategic decisions are made at media agencies on behalf of clients, there are so many other media options that have tagged or targeted measurement. Getting an acceptable measurement system that gives clients absolute confidence they can get great return on their investment is essential.
“The industry has changed significantly and the smart, passionate operators have brought in new talent with new skill sets because we needed to.”
On future growth for QMS, O’Neill said he felt the large-format, digital out-of-home platform is basically untapped. “If we get to the stage where we can serve relative ads at relative times in relative weather conditions to relative audiences, and extend those ads to mobile and other forms of digital, the revenue numbers will go through the roof.
“It will be the last broadcast medium and you can’t turn it off. We are working to understand more about the audiences around the locations and how we can communicate effectively consistently and cost-effectively to those audiences.”
Then he added “with no wastage”.
O’Neill currently sits on the OMA board as a proxy for Barclay Nettlefold ahead of the next vote for board members a little later this year in May.
He spoke about how the industry can at times speak with one voice, yet also compete fiercely within. “It is great to sit in a board meeting with passionate out-of-home operators trying to drive everything in the right direction. We are all smart enough to understand there has to be a collaborative approach to come up with the best results for the industry. At times that may have been a bit of a challenge, but we are certainly heading the right direction now, led by OMA chief executive Charmaine Moldrich.
“She is able to work with some very sensible people all trying to come up with the best solutions for the industry, rather than ourselves. We will all benefit if we can do that.”
When it comes to tending plants, John O’Neill should be quite the horticulturalist. Around 2000 when Ten Network bought NLD, appointing its own team and making O’Neill redundant, he subsequently had to stand out for two years.
Later when O’Neill left oOh!media, he had a further period of 18 months before he could re-enter the sector.
O’Neill has been part owner of a number of horses over the years including Mummify and one linked more directly to one of his businesses, Media Puzzle, which won the 2002 Melbourne Cup.
“I was very lucky over the years to be very friendly with Damien Oliver and his family. Damien rode Media Puzzle for us in the Melbourne Cup,” O’Neill told Mediaweek.