CBS Outdoor international legal director: International Ad value

The world of outdoor advertising got a boost from London 2012, says Grainne Brankin, international legal director at CBS Outdoor International


As London continues to bask in the post-Olympics and Paralympics glow, it’s also been one heck of a summer for CBS Outdoor International’s Grainne Brankin.

Brankin, who joined the outdoor advertising group as international legal director last May after an eight-year stint at search giant Yahoo!, admits that being the sole outdoor advertising provider for London 2012 was both a fantastic opportunity and a challenge for her and her in-house legal team.

Training regime

“For both the Olympics and Paralympics, there were definitely issues with the complex regulations that were specially passed for the Games, like vicinity advertising and the auction of sites,” she stresses. “We also did a lot of analysis and training of our sales force and this created a great deal of bespoke legal work.”

Although the Games have been and gone, the iconic London 2012 logos that fill the walls of the glass-fronted reception of CBSO’s office in London’s Camden are a powerful reminder that the company may well have its own Olympics legacy.

“It’s been a big summer for outdoor advertising, where there have been a lot more opportunities to expose our assets than usual – I think it’s been a success and raised the profile of outdoor advertising,” insists Brankin.

As the first self-styled ‘public transport games’, giving every spectator a ticket for free travel across London on the day of their event, CBSO had an unrivalled opportunity to cover London’s tube and bus networks and Westfield shopping malls.

Although the contract for London 2012 was brokered long before Brankin’s arrival at the company , she played a key role in advising on the legal aspects of the group’s advertising contract with Westfield Stratford, which opened in October last year.

“On the partner side, for contracts such as the one with Westfield, we have to arrange to sell all the internal and external outdoor advertising formats on the Stratford site and this involves working through a lot of commercial contracts,” she says.

With so much coverage in and around the Olympics and London’s transport network, it is perhaps ironic then that a long-running dispute over the advertising sales contract with London Underground and Transport for London has been one of the biggest headaches of Brankin’s role so far.

Tube delays

Joining in May, and while she was still commuting to and from Yahoo! Sarl’s offices just outside Geneva until the end of August last year, Brankin was forced to get up to speed quickly with the complex legal tussle that included a claim that overrunning refurbishment work had delayed CBSO in installing screens on escalators and projects on station platforms.


“I’m not a litigation lawyer and didn’t want to rock the boat, but needed to know what was going on so I asked our litigation counsel Hogan Lovells to give me a briefing folder to bring me up to speed,” she says, lugging a weighty lever arch file off her shelf. “As you can see, it wasn’t that brief.”

With one of Brankin’s four-lawyer team dedicated almost full-time to the case it was with relief that the dispute was finally settled in December 2011 and completed in March 2012.

“It was big news that we settled our long-standing litigation with London Underground as it was a difficult case – it was great to finally ‘reset’ relations,” she admits.

Although it’s been an almost non-stop roller coaster since she arrived, Brankin highlights that it was more than just the Olympics and a spot of nostalgia that brought her back to Camden Wharf, just streets away from where she lived during her university days at King’s College London.

“At Yahoo! lawyers reported to lawyers, which is a common structure for a US group to have, so the idea of reporting to the CEO directly was a big thing for me as I felt more involved in the business,” she stresses.

Brankin’s remit covers all CBSO’s European operations and the company’s Chinese arm. In Europe she has a 15-strong legal team, with four lawyers and two support staff based in CBSO’s offices. As she notes, the challenges facing advertisers can vary remarkably across Europe.

“In France for example, contracts have to be negotiated with private landlords so you have to negotiate a contract for each individual billboard, which means hundreds and hundreds of contracts have to be drawn up,” she says.

Since each jurisdiction requires tailored expertise Brankin regularly calls on around 20 law firms across Europe. One of her most important criteria when selecting external counsel has been each firm’s policy on diversity.

“We recently asked all our external counsel if they were signed up to the Prime initiative and most were,” says Brankin. “I’ve also made a point of asking all our external counsel about the number of women partners they have and their policies on diversity.

“The reason we raise these subjects with our laws firms is to make sure they understand that as a client these are things we care about. Trying to change the present situation in which, at many firms, there are plenty of female associates but few partners is important to me. That pattern is the same in many professions. At CBSO our CEO is a man, but his executive committee comprises three women (including me) and three men, so we’re perfectly balanced.”

Sustainability is also an interest of Brankin’s.

“We also asked all of our firms about sustainability and the best answer came from Lewis Silkin, who are keeping their own beehives,” she laughs.

Outdoor life

Having first gained a taste for advertising during a secondment to Lowe Lintass during a stint as a TMT lawyer at Bird & Bird in London, Brankin is clearly fascinated by the scope of outdoor advertising and the legal issues it throws up on a daily basis.

“Everything is changing so much: we’re moving from a society where products are static and passive to one where people are starting to use smartphones to interact with advertising,” she remarks. “This is bringing up a whole world of legal issues, of which data protection is only one.”

Grainne Brankin

CBS Outdoor International

Title: International legal director

Industry: Advertising

Reporting to: Chief executive, Antonio Alonso

Company turnover: $2bn

Employees: 3,000

Legal capability: 21

Legal spend: £1m

Main external law firms: 20 across Europe including Lewis Silkin and Hogan Lovells

Nick Andrews

Nick Andrews, head of legal, Clear Channel UK

No two days are alike as an in-house lawyer in the fast-paced out-of-home media sector.

I love the power of outdoor advertising. The innovative way we are incorporating digital technologies including near-field communication into many of our sites is groundbreaking, and initiatives such as this provide clients and consumers with real ‘bang for their buck’.

The legal team is positioned at the core of the business and has built up an understanding with colleagues where the benefits of getting legal involved early is appreciated. A ‘let’s make this happen’ attitude driven by internal lawyers can really improve company performance.

As a direct report of the CEO, a statutory director, head of compliance and part of the management board I have full visibility and involvement in day-to-day business decisions and input into underlying strategies. These strategies have shaped Clear Channel UK’s core attributes of partnership, reach, flexibility, innovation and results, which the legal team embraces in all its actions and interactions, both internally and externally.   

To be an excellent in-house lawyer you must immerse yourself in the business and truly understand how its components fit together. You can then overlay your legal prowess onto this commercial knowledge, while paying close attention to strategy.

I’m proud to head up a terrific legal team and love seeing its members develop their legal and commercial capabilities every day.

So next time you are out and about, have a look around – you may just see the name Clear Channel looking back at you.