12 January, 2009 – Revolution Man
The outdoor poster is dead and Manchester is hammering the last nail in its coffin, according to James Burrows, Group CEO of Litelogic, who claims an outdoor digital revolution is being launched on our doorstep. We catch up with the straight-talking Londoner to find out what all the fuss is about.
You would think that a company that boasts creating, designing and manufacturing the world’s most revolutionary digital outdoor advertising displays would actually want to be visible. Visiting its only UK office outside of London, you expect no lesser signage than a massive LED screen beaming ‘Litelogic’ in bold letters and you expect to see it from a mile away.
What you get instead, after driving around Alexandria Drive in Ashton-under-Lyne for 15 minutes trying to find units 3 and 4, is an A4 piece of white paper stuck on a humble glass door with ‘Litelogic’ typed on it in tiny print.
After you get over the initial shock, there is another one waiting for you inside the building, in the form of a London red double decker. At first it looks like your standard bus, until you notice an ultra-thin LED screen fixed on the kerb side of the vehicle, flashing hi-res moving images.
Around this bus is a hive of activity. A team of engineers and electronics designers are testing LED panels in different shapes and sizes, while a couple of people with notebooks are standing around a new product that we are politely told we cannot photograph.
James Burrows comes out of a staff meeting in the next-door unit, which serves as office space. He looks every inch the sharp-suited media executive, complete with spark in the eye and confident grin.
With the niceties out of the way, out comes our Sanyo Talk Book Dictaphone from sometime in the 80s. His eyes examine it keenly for a moment, a funny sight for someone at the cutting edge of digital technology, surely, but if he is laughing inside he hides it well.
“I probably couldn’t work that,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone that he maintains throughout the interview. Considering the fact that this is a man who earlier this year was listed in The Sunday Times’ ‘Top 40 Under 40′ in the media industry, we would hazard a guess that he could actually figure out how to work an analogue dictaphone if he tried.
Born in London and raised in Henley, Oxfordshire, the 37-year-old soon-to-be father of two has a glowing background in advertising and media. He cut his teeth with multinational advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson and Publicis, where he worked on campaigns for global brands. Perhaps Burrows’ greatest achievement in his greener years was creating the advertising strategy and campaign that launched Coca-Cola to the Russian market in 1996.
In 2000 Burrows joined the founding team of online advertising business Espotting, which introduced search marketing and the pay-per-click advertising model to Europe. Within four and a half years Espotting expanded to 221 employees in eight European countries, and in July 2004 it was sold to an American company for a reported $187 million.
When the media high-flyer met the founders of London-based company Litelogic – James Sirmon and James Theobald – in 2006, he knew he had found his next challenge.
He explains: “When I was introduced to the business, the founders had been working with LEDs on the hardware side in different guises for about 16 years, and they were developing a digital bus screen and some unique spinning technology. But it wasn’t so much the hardware that interested me; it was the opportunity to create a centralised software platform that would enable advertisers and media agencies to come in and schedule their advertising in different and more creative ways, rather than the traditional two-week campaigns.”
Burrows claims this software platform, called Litecast, is a world first in efficiently managing digital content for the outdoor advertising industry. It enables advertisers to buy and schedule spots by the minute, and deliver targeted messages that can be changed at the click of a button. “We could take a photograph of you right now and have it live on 25 buses in London within a minute.”
Litecast has helped Litelogic change from a hardware business to a company that pioneers and provides end-to-end digital solutions for a huge range of clients, from outdoor advertising companies like CBS Outdoor to bus operators like Arriva.
Of course the software would be useless without the hardware, and Litelogic boasts the most advanced LED technology in the world. “This is where we get technical,” Burrows apologises as he prepares to introduce the company’s Evolution and Revolution display ranges.
“Evolution is what you see driving through Times Square and Piccadilly, ie large format LED displays. But we have created a niche market by making them applicable for transport. We are the only company in the world that puts LED screens on transport for advertising purposes, and we’ve been doing it for three years.”
The display on the London bus next door is an example of Litelogic’s Evolution technology. A contract with CBS Outdoor has seen 25 buses in the capital fitted with these screens and Burrows’ team is just in the process of rolling this technology out to North America through a multi-million dollar agreement with outdoor advertising giant Titan Worldwide. The client has placed an initial order of 100 screens, in what will be the world’s largest deployment of high resolution LED displays on buses. Why? Because it makes good commercial sense, argues Burrows.
“Evolution displays offer very high resolution images on a moving bus. They are very light compared to traditional LED screens and they are incredibly thin – about 21mm, which is thinner than the existing paper poster cases. They’re also very durable because they have to withstand going through bus washes every single day. Plus they require low power consumption – they actually pull the available power from the bus without hindering any of the existing bus systems.”
Supported by Litecast, Evolution can do some extraordinary things. “It is fixed with GPS technology and it has diagnostics and reporting capabilities, so you get a constant heartbeat of what’s going on in the streets. And it enables you to do location based advertising because the content can change as the bus drives in and out of different zones.”
Litelogic’s Revolution range uses spinning LED technology to produce high resolution displays that boast low energy consumption and cost a fraction of traditional LED displays. Britain’s largest lamppost advertising company, Streetbroadcast, has recently begun installing Litelogic’s Revolution 360 to display advertising and public service announcements in more than ten UK cities.
All Litelogic displays are viewable in bright sunlight, unlike laptop, LCD or plasma screens. And Burrows claims they are the only truly scaleable outdoor digital solution, offering advertising companies the ability to put out big national networks to attract advertisers.
So are we on the brink of a digital outdoor revolution? It certainly looks like it. As our lives become increasingly fast, so does the way we consume information. It is not too big a stretch of the imagination to picture cities where information, from advertising to community messages, is coming at you from bus shelters, lampposts and moving vehicles while you are on the move. And Litelogic’s Manchester office is set to be the pacesetter in this frantic new world.
Litelogic has been operating from Manchester for two years, expanding its workforce from four to 27, which is more than half of the company’s total number of staff in the UK and North America. Its 1042 sq m office in Ashton-under-Lyne is where all the digital displays are developed and assembled. It also doubles as a showroom.
“We wanted to create a centre of excellence and we looked around the UK to find the best place,” says Burrows. “We were looking to build up a pool of talent in engineering, electronics design, installation and logistics. And we felt we could track the best talent for our business in Manchester.
“Also, from an international perspective, people could fly from the US and all over the world directly into Manchester. So outside of London, this was the natural next choice.”
Litelogic’s move was justified when recruitment proved a doddle. “MIDAS put us in touch with agencies to help with our recruitment efforts, and we also hired through word of mouth. We’ve actually found it easier recruiting talent here than we have in any of our other offices.
“This city has exceeded our expectations. We have found a fantastic pool of talent here, a fantastic location in terms of access both from within the UK and internationally. And sometimes it’s a helluva lot sunnier than London.”
If you have just raised a sarcastic eyebrow, shame on you. On the day of this interview the sun is shining in Manchester while (we like to imagine) the capital is toiling under a big thick cloud.
In any case, Burrows is not laughing. “One of the most exciting innovations that has ever happened to the outdoor advertising industry is going on in the UK and Manchester is very much at the heart of it.”
Litelogic intends to continue to expand its Manchester office, and although Burrows admits he never has any down time on his monthly trips to the city, he says he is always happy to be here – as long as Old Trafford is out of his view range. “I think there’s a sick part of me that quite enjoys being in Manchester as a massive Liverpool fan.” Now he laughs.
This article was first published in the November 2008 issue of All About Manchester magazine.
© Selini Publishing Limited.