Omnicom Group Undertakes Major Reshuffling at U.S. Media Operations

OMD's U.S. Chief Alan Cohen Exits, Launches New Shop Backed by Holding Company

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A big senior management reshuffle is underway at Omnicom Group's media operations.

Alan Cohen
Alan Cohen

Both PHD and OMD -- the media agencies that sit within the Omnicom Media Group network -- are getting new U.S. leaders as OMD's current U.S. CEO, Alan Cohen, leaves to start his own shop.

As a result, Monica Karo, the U.S. chief at PHD, has been tapped to take over as U.S. CEO of larger shop OMD. That move left a hole atop PHD's domestic operations; it will be filled by Robert Habeck, executive director of global accounts for Omnicom Media Group. Both appointments are effective immediately.

"Media investment can no longer defined in terms of channels or technology – it must also be rooted in a deeper understanding of the client's broader business priorities, challenges and goals," said Ms. Karo said in a statement. "Assuring that depth of insight and knowledge for our clients will be my top priority."

The series of changes come as Mr. Cohen exits OMD after a five-year run. With the backing of Omnicom, he's embarking on a new venture to start an agency with an unusual name: "Giant Spoon." He's also taking three coworkers with him. They are: OMD Chief Innovation Officer Jonathan Haber, OMD's Ignition Factory East's director Trevor Guthrie and Ignition Factory West's director, Marc Simons.

Monica Karo
Monica Karo

Omnicom Media Group will have a minority stake in the shop. Details have yet to emerge about how the new agency will be positioned to clients, but it will likely specialize in non-traditional media given who Mr. Cohen's launch partners are. For example, Ignition Factory, has been responsible for ideas such as electronic ads in print magazines and has been focused on creating campaigns that go beyond paid media.

Before Mr. Cohen entered the media agency world (he earlier spent time at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative) he spent 20 years in in the entertainment business at 20th Century Fox, NBC and ABC.

Ahead of Omnicom's Merger With Publicis

The changes come as Omnicom and Publicis Groupe await regulatory approval to merge and create adland's largest holding company.

An OMG spokeswoman said the pending merger was unrelated to the media agency changes. But nevertheless, media is one of the biggest areas where change is expected to take place in the unified holding company. It will now be on Ms. Karo and Mr. Habeck's shoulders to help navigate the way that Omnicom and Publicis leverage their joint, uber-powerful media agency assets for clients' benefit.

Many observers are wondering what the merger could mean for the agency structures; could we see the rise of another umbrella media group like WPP's Group M, for example? There's also the matter of which of the three media agency network bosses -- Daryl Simm (OMG), Laura Desmond (Starcom MediaVest Group) or Steve King (ZenithOptimedia) -- might be tapped to oversee all media and how well the individual agencies and their leaders will mesh if joined under the same parent.

OMD, PHD Performance

OMD's worldwide revenue increased 7.5% to $930 million in 2012, and the shop's U.S. revenue grew 9% to $228 million, according to the Ad Age DataCenter. PHD saw double-digit growth both globally and in the U.S. in 2012, with worldwide revenue totaling $404 million.

OMD recently suffered its first big loss in awhile when client Hershey moved its global business to IPG's UM. But overall, both OMD and PHD have had successful years under Ms. Karo and Mr. Cohen. OMD U.S. has retained or grown most of its largest accounts and won a flurry of business, such as Walgreens, Experian and Warner Bros., among others. PHD this week retained its U.S. GSK business and added Canada, among other global assignments. The shop also recently won Carnival Cruise Lines. And last year, working with the global team, it picked up Unilever's global communications planning business.

This latest round of leadership changes at Omnicom follow exec management changes in the company's media division early last year. In March, Monica Karo, who had been president of integrated accounts at Omnicom Media Group and lead on its Apple account, succeeded Andrew McLean as U.S. CEO of PHD. At the time, the network also named Steve Williams, who was the CEO of OMD Group UK, to president of PHD New York. PHD's current president and chief digital officer, Craig Atkinson, also moved into the chief operating seat for PHD U.S. while retaining his CDO role.

Ms. Karo, an Omnicom vet with a long history working with Apple, first as corporate media director for TBWA/Chiat/Day, continued her role as the lead on that OMG account after taking the PHD position. It's understood that her move to OMD won't affect her role on that account.

Mr. Habeck, who is also well known for his client work at OMG, specifically with HP, has followed a similar path to that of Ms. Karo at Omnicom. He has worked for Omnicom in roles at DDB, OMD and OMG for over 10 years.

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