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18 June 2012

Gambling on advertising billboards in Sydney NSW; Packer and Singleton: You Bet, by Greg Tingle

Profiles

Advertising James Packer John Singleton Crown Limited Politics Sydney Australia



With the 'Mad Men' TV series all the rage in Australia, Hollywood and all points in between, we thought the timing was excellent to bring you up to speed on some roadside advertising news in Sydney, Australia.

A mega cashed up company part-owned by media tycoons James Packer and John Singleton has started to cash in on major Sydney motorways, headed up by the M2 motorway.

Construction work on advertising billboards owned by Packer and Singleton's firm first started about 12 months ago and some campaigns are already up and running beautifully.

The firm is not disclosing its full client or campaign list, as you would expect - not that anyone else could likely give them much of a run for their money.

These are not any average billboards... they cost about $500,000 each all told, "Packer and Singo" are looking for strong return on investment and are looking to stand out from the pack.

The concession to erect billboards over the M2 was purchased by Manboom, a company owned by JP, Singo and Robert Whyte, from the M2's owner, Transurban, back in 1998. Talk about forward planning.

For more than a decade Manboom was unable to erect signs over the road because of road blocks from local councils! The M2 passes through three council areas and only one, Hornsby, would permit advertising billboards.

But in 2007 the then planning minister, Frank Sartor, amended legislation that stripped away councils of the right to determine policies for signs over motorways. The Department of Planning became the sole consent authority for motorway advertising.

The Media Man agency strongly suspects that a strained economy (and diluting council coffers) lessened council opposition to the advertising proposal put forward. You know... "Money talks and BS walks", whispered a Media Man insider.

It is not clear how much income Manboom makes from the concession to advertise over the congested M2. The firm has in place an annual payment deal with Hornsby Council, the Hills Shire and the City of Ryde in return for its signage rights.

It also pays for public benefit works commissioned by Roads and Maritime Services.

Transurban's spokesman said months ago: "The installation of advertising signage will fund improvements to the aesthetics and operation of bridges on the motorway, including new bridge facade cladding.

"The project will deliver safety improvements to the motorway and a designated source of ongoing funding for safety enhancements to the motorway," he said.

"The use of advertising signage provides an important alternative source of funding for infrastructure improvements and enhancements."

The M2 is in the middle of a two-year upgrade.

The former RTA last year opposed four of Manboom's 15 proposed signs on safety grounds. It cited a fear about "sign clutter" and a concern the angle of one billboard would distract motorists.

The Department of Planning upheld the RTA's concerns about the four signs.

Some studies say billboard advertising helps keep drivers alert, whilst others suggest they are a dangerous distraction. Readers - what do you think? A gamble with safety or a gamble on the investment?

Its a safe bet that Packer, Singleton and Whyte have done their sums.

In the meantime plenty of other Sydney councils are watching the project closely to see if they may be able to also benefit financially from extra advertising on their roads.

*the writer owns shares in Crown Limited, Network Ten and Virgin.

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