Culture, outdoor and expansion Pikasso-style

Pikasso’s Antonio Vincenti tells Iain Akerman how he intends to spread his outdoor gospel into North Africa

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By  Iain Akerman Published  January 29, 2006

Culture, outdoor and expansion Pikasso-style|~|vincenti200.jpg|~|Vincenti... ‘In our market you have no competition. If you want to talk about real poster advertising on an international level, there is no competition’|~|It is by some considerable fluke that Antonio Vincenti and I happen to be in Beirut at the same time. Having just returned from North Africa, he is jetting off to Jordan shortly after our meeting and doesn’t look like he’s due to slow down for some time. And with good reason. These are important days for Pikasso. The outdoor media owner is celebrating its 20th birthday this year and is now ready to build on its successes in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq by heading for virgin territory in Algeria. For Vincenti, who is Pikasso’s chief executive officer, the company stands on the threshold of a concerted period of expansion that will see it reach out beyond its Levant heartland. “We have completed our coverage of the Levant,” he says with confidence. “And after completing it we have decided to start in Algeria. I just came back from there the day before yesterday and we are planning to have the first billboards installed by February. “This is our new direction now, to go to North Africa. Let us focus on Algeria. Algeria is an untapped market and we will introduce a revolution in outdoor there. Is it presumptious to say that? “Once you have finished in the Levant,” he adds. “You have either to go to the Gulf, where all seats are taken, or you go where you have opportunities.” Vincenti and Pikasso have grasped opportunities before. Founded in Beirut in 1986, it spread to Jordan in 2000 and to Iraq in 2004, while an association with Syria’s Al Alamiah has led to the company’s presence in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakieh. Vincenti is clear about which countries are ripe for expansion and is openly dismissive of others. “Can you go and buy a company in a country where regulations are not clear?” he asks. “If you have US$50 million in your pocket and you want to invest, would you do it? I tell you as an expert with 20 years of experience, never do it when the regulations are not clear. “It’s based on regulations; it’s based on how you get the permit. Tenders are for four years. Whenever it’s for four years you never get quality outdoor. Why? Because operators are not feeling safe so they don’t invest in quality outdoor. “It’s all about the quality of the hoarding. The more you are secure in the location, the more you invest in it. The least you are secure on it, the less you invest on the billboard because you don’t know in four years if the location will be yours or not. We only operate in markets where we are secure about our service.” For a Beirut newcomer, Pikasso’s headquarters near La Sagesse University are a little hard to find, although its distinct yellow branding is evident throughout the city. The company has 3700 faces across Beirut and these are complemented by 1000 in Jordan and 2000 in Iraq. The plan is to have 2000 in Algeria by the end of the year. When we meet, Vincenti is welcoming, sincere and precise. He is a clear believer in the art of outdoor and the correct use of words to express himself. “You know,” he says. “I have lists of favourite words that I update every year. For me it is very, very important. They are in the three languages [Arabic, French and English]. For instance, in English my last addition was ‘to connect’.” He estimates that Pikasso has 38% of the total number of faces in Lebanon, including billboards, unipoles, rooftops and walls, and Vincenti is keen to promote the industry’s need for environmental awareness and urban integration. He says he is a perfectionist who is often too demanding and never satisfied, yet his core staff have been with him for up to 20 years and it is that central bond that has helped Pikasso thrive. “We as a company behave as if we’re in the most sophisticated and rich market in the world. We over do it,” he says. “Our software system is the best one in the world — it cost us a fortune and the company that supplies it only has 25 clients worldwide.” Why behave in such a way? “Because we want to enjoy our work. Do you want us to cry every day that we are in a small market? For me this is enjoying work. Put the challenge very high, although I know it is unrealistic. But to benefit from this capital of human resources, this capital of know-how, we have to make fruitful growth. And this is our strategy for the next five to ten years.” Is he worried about his competition in the Levant? “They pose a threat when they cut their prices, that is it,’” he says. “In our market you have no competition. If you want to talk about real poster advertising on an international level, there is no competition.” Later on during our conversation he adds: “I think that in the market you have a few professional known companies, while all the others are just people who install panels. They think that if they have an idea and install a few panels, then they think that they have a company. It’s not that if you go and install a wall, fascia or a rooftop or invent a size of a billboard that you become a company.” Vincenti champions best practice within the industry — indeed, the company runs an annual poster creativity awards — but believes the outdoor market needs to get its house in order if it is thrive. “All operators in the Middle East have to acquire a culture of outdoor,” he says. “It’s not about numbers, it’s not about size, it’s not about coverage, it’s about learning about a sense of the city, of the towns; it’s about aesthetics, it’s about culture. “And I think we need to compare outdoor in the Middle East to architecture and we need a close relationship between these two things because it’s the same space that they occupy. “It’s not about quantity. If you go to industrialised cities in Europe, they are crowded but they are crowded in a civilised way, in a pleasant way. I have seen five billboards on a crossroads in Lyon — which is the second city of France, is a historical city, and it was in the city centre — but this did not hurt me because they were beautiful billboards and they were installed exactly how they had to be.” And this is where he believes the Middle East can improve its outdoor offer. “Wherever we install billboards, we must install them in a manner that doesn’t hurt,” he says. “It comes from regulation first, and it comes from clients, from agencies. I think clients and agencies have a big role with whom they invest, where they place their money, how their money is used.”||**||

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