OMD rolls out integrated media unit

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Omnicom Group's OMD has launched an integrated-communications practice in North America called Ignition, the latest in a series of moves by U.S. media agencies to make media planning a primary part of the creative and brand-building process.

The key to the unit will be David DeSocio, director of Ignition and a former executive at AOL Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting Sales. Joe Uva, president-CEO of OMD, and formerly the president-sales and marketing at Turner, recruited Mr. Socio earlier this year. He will report directly to Page Thompson, chief strategy officer.

Mr. Thompson was instrumental in setting up Ignition, which borrows its name from a "thought-starter" unit that was established last year at OMD in London with a mission to focus on creative media ideas. "We're using that name," said Mr. Thompson, "but this is more than just developing creative media ideas."

"We're putting Ignition on the front burner," Mr. Uva said. "We are going to apply, across the agency, the same skill sets, competencies and methods that account planners use to understand the relationship between consumers and brands. Every medium and every media selection is a brand unto itself. This has everything to do with the way individuals consume media."

In effect the unit is the latest attempt by a U.S. agency to bring media back into the creative and brand-building process, which some media executives feared was left behind when their shops unbundled from creative agencies to specialize in media. Large media agencies are creating units that participate in early brand-building meetings between ad agencies and clients.

"This process integrates and fits hand-in-glove with the brand-planning, account-planning functions at the agencies," said Mr. Uva. "This does not usurp or replace the strategy development that agencies do. This enhances it, completing the entire strategic spectrum." OMD works with sibling shops BBDO, DDB and TBWA/Chiat/Day. Earlier this year, Chiat/Day launched its own media-strategy unit, Connections Planning, which brings media decisions into the early stages of development of marketing strategies. "Connections will work along with OMD's new unit," said Nick McClean, director of Connections Planning at Chiat/Day in New York.

Other big shops are already on board the integrated-strategy bandwagon. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann has developed a "communications architecture" practice for McCann Erickson WorldGroup clients, led by Senior VP Marston Allen. WPP Group's MindShare has launched its own version of creative integrated planning called the "Wow Factory" (AA, Sept. 9). Earlier this year, Publicis Groupe hired Derek Morris, a co-founder of communications hotshop Unity, as chief strategic officer for the holding company. (Mr. Morris also was recently promoted to CEO of Publicis London.)

rapprochement?

Some observers feel that these media-strategy moves are the first step of a rapprochement between media agencies and creative agencies that will eventually result in the shops merging back again. At the recent American Magazine Conference in Phoenix, Renetta McCann, CEO of Publicis' Starcom, said: "Don't be surprised if creative agencies are reunited with media agencies."

Most media executives acknowledge that the trend to create and name strategy units within big shops is an effort to compete with specialty media agencies that have cropped up in the U.K. such as Michaelides & Bednash, Unity, Naked and the latest hotshop, Rise, launched last week by Simon Mathews, former managing director at Publicis' Optimedia and Andrew Goulborn, previously communications director at Saatchi & Saatchi, both in London. Some observers, however, say the small units within large shops are nothing but public-relations stunts.

"With media agencies as with creative agencies, clients buy into your agency brand," said a media executive who requested anonymity. "And if you have to develop separate strategy branches with names on them, then obviously the agency brand isn't strong enough in itself."

Meanwhile, Mr. DeSocio's first task at OMD is to educate. He is already holding seminars in the Ignition philosophy, which the shop has dubbed "Checkmate."

"We're teaching our people how to do account planning for media," said Mr. Thompson. "This is not a light switch that goes on and off. It takes training."

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