Being There: A Conversation With DPAA's Barry Frey

On the eve of this week's annual summit in New York City, DPAA (Digital Place-Based Advertising Association) President-CEO Barry Frey talks about the power of brands, new digital out-of-home experiences, and why IRL will never be supplanted by the metaverse.

MediaPost: We’re in an era of hyper-fragmentation. There are too many options for anyone to really consider. How do you manage to get the industry’s attention and get the greater turnout you get at your summit every year? Are you finding it more challenging to break through and get the ad industry’s attention?

Barry Frey: I believe that if you want to market, promote and educate, you also have to inspire and entertain, so we do have the Neil Diamond play, “A Beautiful Noise,” performing.



Maybe the more important answer is that it’s all about the brands, so we put the brands onstage. Because, before it even gets divided up into the myriad of media options, it starts with the brands. And if people can understand what the brand’s thinking is -- what they are passionate about, what works for them and what doesn’t -- that’s how we drive people into the room.

Second is that we’ve built what I would call a “muscular trade association.” We’re a connector. We’re a community. We’re a concierge service. We are a consultant. And because we have built these ties that bind, we have built this community and become this connectivity place.

We’ve become a club. I think that goes above and beyond normal trade bodies, where people really feel connected. I think there is a bond of community that also draws people out.

Another reason is that we are the fastest-growing medium. I mean, IPG, GroupM, study after study -- we are actually ahead of CTV [growth].

Our mission is to grow the out-of-home marketplace globally, while also growing its digitization. And because we are digitizing this medium, we have 3D, anamorphic, we have programmatic, we have QR codes, we have virtual reality, we have augmented reality.

We’ve got data. We’ve got targeting. We have addressability.

MediaPost: To that point, we are now on the cusp of the metaverse where advertising inventory, media impressions and presence will be infinite and brands will literally be able to create any experience, anywhere for anyone at any time. What happens when there is no finite space in the media world anymore? How are you going to be able to compete with infinite?

Frey: I think I have an answer that may pleasantly surprise you. Unlike all other media -- like every website, every app -- you can’t make more real estate. You can’t make more out-of-home. The medium is very finite. It’s real estate that has to be negotiated with municipalities and building owners. It’s finite inventory.

MediaPost: Not when it’s in an augmented reality or mixed-reality application that brands and consumers are experiencing while in the real world. Yes, the physical “IRL” world is finite, but now that we're on the verge of less time spent in IRL and more time spent in virtual life, does that concern you?

Frey: The reality of when that comes to our area and opens up a new trove of inventory: a) I think is going to be very far away, and b) as humans -- and we saw this during and coming out of COVID --  the power of being in the real world, the power of looking someone in the face and not being in your own world, is incredibly powerful. I don’t think that will ever go away, as long as we’re humans. And we help people experience media and marketing in the human, physical space.

I mean, look at retail media. There’s $120 billion of ad spending in retail media. This is an area that we already have tons of members in, because the experience of being in the path to purchase physically in the store is incredibly powerful.

MediaPost: Your strategy of putting brand marketers front-and-center at your summit is a smart one, but how do you get their attention with everything else that’s going on?

Frey: I’ve lived my life with brands. When I went with Ted Turner to pitch agencies on cable TV, they would say, “We have TV, radio, print and out-of-home budgets, but we have no cable TV budget.” So what did we do? We went to the brands, because the brands were interested in selling soap, not necessarily in accumulating rating points. And at every stage of my career, it has always been a brand discussion.

Because of my background, I can speak to them from not just one media standpoint. I can speak to them from omnichannel.

The great Winston Churchill quote talks about leadership not necessarily pushing people, but understanding where they need to go.

To wit, I have the same job I had with Ted Turner. Innovation and technology came to television, and I was out promoting that. Right now, innovation and technology has come to out-of-home, and I’m out promoting that.

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