A Christmas tree studded with more than a million pieces of crystal. Apps allowing people to take selfies with Madame Tussaud's waxworks. Activations that turn train stations into outposts of World Cup soccer fever: when it comes to outdoor advertising, the old days of simple posters and mass-produced signage are long gone.

Shirley Chan, Managing Director of JCDecaux Hong Kong
Shirley Chan, Managing Director of JCDecaux Hong Kong

At the forefront of advertising innovation

JCDecaux Transport Hong Kong has been at the forefront of this change. For Shirley Chan, the company’s Managing Director, this new digital era brings with it challenges but also unprecedented opportunities to create more engaging advertising content that is better tailored to a client’s specific needs than ever before.

The company is dominant in out-of-home (OOH) advertising, with a market share of more than 50% in Hong Kong and clients such as Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR), the Hong Kong International Airport and Macau International Airport. Shirley credits a commitment to staying at the cutting edge for the company’s enviable market share.

“Innovation enables us to anticipate people’s constantly changing needs and help make transportation more enjoyable for passengers,” she says. “In the past few years, we have not only increased our number of digital panels but also pioneered dynamic content on digital media to help advertisers drive a better return on investment by delivering content that is contextually relevant for the brand, as well as for the environment and consumer.”

Having first joined the company as Senior Sales Executive back in 1997, Shirley says her corporate knowledge was advantageous when she transitioned to higher levels of management. “I understood the company culture and had the company’s trust,” she explains. “Once you earn that trust, you can get the most out of people. They will want to work with you.”

“This is very important since a lot of the consistent success of a business can be attributed to the high quality and commitment of the staff who have come onboard over the years and became pivotal to its continued growth.”

Shirley continued adding responsibilities to her role, and after managing sales and revenues was promoted to Sales Director. From there, she was asked to think about how the company could leverage technology to improve its products, leading to an elevation to General Manager. In turn, this role allowed her to gain broad experience.

“When you are a GM, the boundaries are not really there for you to stay in one particular area. I was able to be wherever the company needed me the most.” The breadth of this position meant she was well equipped to step up to the Managing Director role.

“I had a deep understanding of the company’s direction, development and structure, as well as of many of its associates, customers and suppliers.” Considering whether she sees herself as a leader or manager, Shirley says her position has elements of both roles.

“Most of the time, I work as a leader to outline the vision for the company and motivate the team to engage with that vision,” she says. “But sometimes I also work as a manager, because I truly believe that leadership and management must go hand-in-hand. They are different, but linked and complementary.”

“I truly believe that leadership and management must go hand-in-hand. They are different, but linked and complementary.”

Shirley says sometimes she will still get involved in a brainstorming session or a project discussion. “That is to generate exciting ideas, inspire the team to dream big and, most importantly, to translate this into positive action.”

Shirley Chan, Managing Director of JCDecaux Hong Kong
Shirley Chan, Managing Director of JCDecaux Hong Kong

Frameworks and strategies

The company formulated its 4D strategy to ensure it kept pace with the challenge of digitalising OOH (out-of-home) media and the heightened expectations of advertisers and consumers alike. The keywords of the strategy are digital, data, distribution and dynamic. There is also a focus on developing advertising campaigns that connect online and offline media and can target specific market segments.

“We believe OOH media will continue to be integrated with best-in-class technology to reach consumers,” Shirley explains.

“This new platform will revolutionise the OOH industry, creating ‘Intelligent OOH’ to compete with and complement current digital advertising environments.”

Another framework JCDecaux Transport Hong Kong has come up with is the ‘3Es’. This means that successful advertising campaigns will be experiential, engaging and emotional.

Advertising campaigns that strike an emotional chord will be especially advantageous, Shirley says.

“Through real-life interaction, advertisers can create unforgettable brand experiences for their potential customers.”

Ever evolving digital advertising & technology trends

Producing campaigns that consumers can interact with has been facilitated by new mobile technologies such as Beacons, which use Bluetooth to send targeted messages and media to nearby phones.

This technology can also be used to collect insights on customer behaviour, such as how they move through a store. Another new tool JCDecaux Transport Hong Kong is using is near-field communications, which allows consumers to pass data from one device to another.

“Digital advertising is the market trend now,” Shirley confirms. “Advertisers are looking for instantness, accuracy, flexibility, ROI, viral effect and sales. The market has become more challenging, so we must change to face the situation.”

Another important industry trend is the fourth generation of advertisement formats – interactive and experiential advertising. The challenge now for firms like JCDecaux Transport Hong Kong is to come up with campaigns that are not just passively consumed, but create a buzz that consumers are happy to engage with and share on social media platforms, boosting the organic reach of the brand.

Campaigns that encourage consumers to express preferences and opinions, or incorporate customised participation souvenirs, such as photos, are also valuable. In many cases, it involves customers willingly sharing their contact details with the brand, leading to deeper engagement.

The company has delivered campaigns of unprecedented scale in the region. Examples include a campaign for online shopping platform HKTVmall, where JCDecaux Transport Hong Kong installed 3,298 trackside panels in all 51 MTR stations to create possibly Hong Kong’s largest advertising medium.

Its campaign for Galaxy Macau took over the entire MTR Tsim Sha Tsui station, with graphics on the ceiling, as well as visuals on the entrance and exterior. There was a 3D display on the concourse, digital panels and multimedia spots, and even stickers on the floor.

Shirley Chan, Managing Director of JCDecaux Hong Kong
Shirley Chan, Managing Director of JCDecaux Hong Kong

“The domination created the strongest visual impact, which has never happened before,” Shirley recalls. Another innovation was the Pricerite virtual shop, which replicated part of the homeware retailer’s shelves in advertising displays.

“People are the most important part of any business… We have to recognise every person’s fullest potential and abilities.”

MTR passengers could buy any of the objects displayed by scanning a QR code with their phone. “Interactive advertisements are a means of competing against digital advertising,” Shirley says.

“They perform tremendously in comparison with static advertisements because they maintain a user’s attention and deliver a richer brand experience. It’s more fun and creates a unique experience, customised for the user.”

As technology evolves at a breakneck pace, Shirley says leadership skills will continue to be more important in her role than being across every new piece of digital innovation. “As an entrepreneur, it’s less important to know how to do everything and much more important to know how to outsource everything you can’t do,” she reasons.

“Leadership skills are paramount for success as people are the most important part of any business. Since I joined 20 years ago, we have expanded our staff headcounts four times at JCDecaux Transport Hong Kong. It’s critical that we recognise every person’s fullest potential and abilities, allowing them to exponentially develop and grow within the company.”