Following Clear Channel’s latest exciting announcements at their annual Upfronts event ‘On The Record’, Neil took some time to chat to us about the newest social good projects the company is embarking upon, as well as his passion for bringing to life projects that deliver real tangible benefits.
”…we have to think about the whole life of a product and the easiest way to make future adaptations without having to redesign it.”
“My team and I are responsible for the development of both existing and new products. By products we mean physical structures and services we provide to local authorities and landlords, such as bus shelters. Part of the job is helping the business to control the variety and range of products we have. For example, we have nine different bus shelter ranges, each with 33 different configurations, meaning we can end up with 250 different types of shelters across the UK. This makes maintenance tricky – even if we only had one type of shelter, you’re talking about 75,000 separate components. So when we want to make improvements or develop new products, we have to think about the whole life of a product and the easiest way to make future adaptations without having to redesign it.”
With such a vast portfolio to oversee, Neil explains that it’s important any development has a clear purpose and benefit.
“When we look at development, the question always comes back to why. Do we really want the product; what are the benefits to the public, to Clear Channel, to the landlord, what’s the time and cost? It means involving lots of different parties, getting feedback and attempting to turn a creative concept into reality. Sometimes this means we can’t always push forward with new ideas and technology straight away, but we can park ideas and keep them in development until the technology or costs change and it becomes right to deliver.”
This fast nature of the development process, working with multiple teams and multiple individuals, on multiple projects, Neil admits can be one of the harder elements of his role. But he also explains how this can also give him a greater flexibility in what ideas can be brought to life.
“It’s definitely my favourite part of the role, bringing a creativity to the process. The breadth of the role is also great because I never have a standard day-to-day; one morning I can be discussing the pollution eating merits of moss and sedum with a university professor, and in the afternoon discussing how we minimise damage to a recycled shelter.”
At Clear Channel’s recent Upfront event ‘On The Record’, the company announced a series of exciting social good projects that aim to build on the Difference, and position the company as a Platform for Brands and a Platform for Good. We asked Neil about his involvement and the new creative projects Clear Channel is committing to.
“One of the new products we’re introducing is the new Landmark bus shelter. The shelter will be made with recycled material, and include solar power, low-energy lighting, and even a living roof. The living roof is something we’re really excited about and we’ve actually extended the idea to produce our next big announcement: the creation of vertical meadows for billboards. Installed directly underneath the screen, the meadow will feature a broad mix of specially chosen plants that will not only help with biodiversity – the seed mix is actually approved by David Attenborough’s charity – but will also help with urban greening and resolve some of the air pollution in city centres. Plus we also know that the introduction of nature can vastly improve mental wellbeing, which is a benefit to people in the surrounding area.”
We also asked Neil about his involvement with the Central Saint Martins UAL partnership, announced at ‘On The Record’.
”Creating something that makes a difference, often involves thinking radically differently.”
“The new partnership with Central Saint Martins is a fantastic new way to look at our product development process. This year was our first year, and essentially we set students a brief to look at the future of the high street and design products that could help solve a social or environmental problem. The project was a huge success and Clear Channel has already bought ten amazing design ideas. Not only is the initiative great exposure for students, it’s also beneficial for us to tap into original creative ideas from people with no preconceptions of the business. Creating something that makes a difference, often involves thinking radically differently.”
Neil emphasises that what’s really important to him is that the products are inclusive and actually deliver material benefits to the people that use them.
“I always think: will the person on the street understand exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing. Because people really do care about these developments, especially when it comes to things such as improving any public infrastructure. In my mind is always the question: will my Mum like it and use it, and can I easily explain it to her. We want our products to not only help us win tenders but also to solve actual city problems and actually make a wider difference.”
Neil’s role often involves him looking a few steps ahead, so we ended by asking him about his thoughts on the future of Out of Home.
“These latest projects are really just the start, and we’re excited for future projects coming down the line. When I think about the future of Out of Home, I think Clear Channel is in a really strong position. The world’s changed a lot in the last 10 years and I believe all media owners are eventually going to have to start thinking about how their products can be developed to be more sustainable, and go beyond just advertising to give real benefits to people. In urban areas this creation of more functional and healthier cities will eventually have to be prioritised through legislation and I think it’s great that Clear Channel will be ahead of the game.”