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Ocean: The Art of Outdoor Is a Marathon

invidis spoke with Ocean Outdoor’s new designated Group CEO, Stephen Joseph, and his predecessor, Tim Bleakley, about the rest of the year and why building premium DooH takes time.

A change of leadership with advance notice: Last Monday, Ocean Outdoor announced that Stephen Joseph would become the new Group CEO on January 1, 2025. The previous CEO, Tim Bleakley, will become Chairman of the Board.

The two have worked together for many years. Tim Bleakley joined Ocean Outdoor in 2010, when Stephen Joseph had already been on board as CFO for a year. Joseph later became COO and then Group CFO & COO in 2019.

Together, Tim Bleakley and Stephen Joseph have led Ocean through three phases of private equity investment, three UK acquisitions, and four acquisitions in the Nordics and the Netherlands. They oversaw the company’s full LSE listing in January 2019 via Ocean’s investment partner, Ocelot. In 2022, Ocean was taken private and became a partner company of Atairos, an independent strategic investment company.

From 9 to 250 people

When Bleakley and Joseph started, the Ocean Outdoor team consisted of nine people. Today, the company has around 250 employees in 353 cities in seven countries.

The most iconic DooH inventory from Ocean: Piccadilly Lights (Photo: Ocean Outdoor Group)
The most iconic DooH inventory from Ocean: Piccadilly Lights (Photo: Ocean Outdoor Group)

“We were working together for 14 years, and I always treated Stephen as a partner,” says Bleakley. He attributes the recent success to the close cooperation between the CEO and CFO/COO. “The nitty-gritty details are as important as the Piccadilly Lights.”

The succession was planned meticulously over the last 12 months to ensure continuity and minimize the impact on the business. “There is nobody that understands the Ocean business better than Stephen”, emphazises Bleakely.

Ocean’s 12

Alongside Stephen Joseph stands the rest of the Ocean leadership: Group Chief Marketing Officer Richard Malton, who joined in 2010; Group Chief Development Officer Steve George; and Catherine Morgan, Group MD of Ocean Labs.

The territory management team includes Phill Hall, CEO of Ocean UK; Xavier Tilman, CEO of Ocean Netherlands; and Anders Axelsson, CEO of Ocean Nordics. In 2024, Christopher Samsinger was appointed CEO of Ocean Germany.

The CEOs are supported by Marc Keenan, Managing Director of Ocean Scotland; Pia Petersen, Managing Director of Ocean Denmark; and Martin Landeby and Carl Frederik Mannerberg, joint MDs of Ocean Sweden.

Premium as an evolution

Stephen Joseph has not yet made any big announcements. He wants to use the transition period to get Ocean off to a strong start in the new year. However, he emphasizes that the core values of Ocean Outdoor are more relevant than ever: “High-quality premium advertising is the evolution of our medium.” This is embodied in Ocean’s motto, “The Art of Outdoor”.

Authenticity is one of the most important factors here. Consumers need to build trust in DooH, a connection needs to be created. rends like fake DooH undermine this trust. “What must never happen to DooH: To be suspected of faking something, of conning the audience.” The value of DooH lies in its real-world presence, which then extends into the online and social media world.

The same principle applies to the use of AI. Joseph believes AI can drive the growth of DooH by taking over repetitive tasks in creation and planning. However, it must be used in a way that preserves the unique selling points of digital out-of-home advertising. “The industry needs to use AI, not be used by it.”

Uefa and Olympics

For further news, Stephen Joseph points to the second half of 2024: “We will see a lot of new contracts and products.” The German market will play an important role in this.

The next few months will see two major European events: the UEFA soccer championship in Germany and the Olympic Games in Paris. Both events offer significant potential for outdoor advertising, especially for companies like Ocean Outdoor that focus on premium screens and authenticity.

Ocean supports the British teams for Olympics and Paralympics. (Photo: Ocean Outdoor Group)
Ocean supports the British teams for Olympics and Paralympics. (Photo: Ocean Outdoor Group)

Ocean has even placed a countdown on its website for the Olympics. The outdoor advertiser is a partner of both the British Olympic and Paralympic teams.

Ocean Outdoor is therefore prepared to move on to the next phase, which is deliberately coupled with a long transition period. Joseph stresses: “Our type of DooH business takes time.” Ocean had already been in business for 12 years before the Piccadilly Lights went into operation. The Art of Outdoor is a marathon. Intensive training is now underway for the next section of the run.