Alan Cohen Scans the Horizon for the Latest Innovations

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Who: Alan Cohen, executive vice president and managing director of Initiative Innovations.

Why you need to know him: A longtime TV and studio marketing executive, Mr. Cohen heads the branded entertainment venture of Interpublic Group of Cos.' media agency Initiative.

Credentials: Mr. Cohen previously spent 20 years at NBC and ABC, where he was responsible for creating and evolving various marketing efforts
Alan Cohen says his clients understand the need for branded-entertainment projects.

and functions in research, brand strategy, new-business development, media, interactive and creative advertising and promotion. “We developed new platforms and products for NBC to expand their brand and allowed advertisers to extend their reach through pioneering new-business platforms such as in-flight television and the Internet,” he said. “At ABC, we created the first centralized marketing department for the network. That included the branding of the network, rebuilding the research, managing the advertising and media budgets, agency relationships and running the in-house creative advertising and promotion efforts. We broke through the clutter launching shows like Alias and According to Jim and gave the network a new identity that ran for five years."

How do you plan to take advantage of branded entertainment for your clients? “We hope to turn the advertising model around because we are getting closer to cracking the code for our clients to ensure that they have a stronger connection with their audiences. Often this means that they need the perfect branded entertainment solution but our offering goes deeper than that. We bring the client to the consumer in an age when the consumer is increasingly in control of their viewing experience. This means reinventing traditional media and utilizing burgeoning technology platforms in a cohesive way that may have never been done before.”

When soliciting ideas, what kind of pitches are you looking for? “We are looking for ideas that are new and fresh and that go beyond what are becoming common integrations. We proactively go to producers of all kinds of branded content and solicit ideas that address our clients’ individual marketing objectives and goals.”

And that doesn’t just involve TV? “My department looks at much more than television. Innovation taps into all media, including PVRs, cell phones, the Internet, in addition to traditional media –- networks, radio, print. We see fragmentation not as a network and cable issue but every new platform offers additional channels for us to tap into.”

Who are your clients? They include America Online, Coors Brewing Co. and Home Depot.

Do people have a better sense of what a good branded-entertainment project might be? “Absolutely. More and more clients are recognizing the need in this area. They have said good ideas can come from anywhere. Some of what we are working on at Initiative has a crossover into creative. What’s exciting about all of this is that there are no definitions. I’ve spent my career in search of what’s new or the next big thing. We see a lot of activity, but a lot of it is one-shot deals. We will be seeing more long-term deals. A good idea and a game-changing innovation takes time to develop and negotiate. We’re very close on several big ideas that I cannot mention just yet, but hey, I just started two months ago!”

What are brands looking for? “Some want to explore and others want to re-invent. Clients want to stand out in the crowd, they want newer, bigger, better ideas.”

What’s working? “I think we have to define ‘working.’ A lot of what’s been done works because it gets advertisers in front of their audiences in new ways. How we turn results into longer-term gains is the same challenge we all share with advertising. Accountability and measurement are critical to help us guide where we are heading in this space.”

You were at the upfronts. What trends did you see? “I saw more reality coming in the summer and many more familiar-feeling dramas. Some networks may be trying a little too hard for something new. We saw a lot of science fiction and more big action than a Bruckheimer film.

What kind of integrations might we see in the new fall TV season? “We’re working closely with the broadcast group and have a number of clients who have or will wrap deals shortly. There is always the question of timing. Some clients will take a chance on a new project and others will want to make sure the show has an audience. There are plenty of opportunities for new and returning shows that can be structured for great exposure to advertiser messages. We also love the idea of being more aggressive with integration possibilities in scripted series. There is a whole new level of opportunity we are exploring that we haven’t seen yet.”

What do you do on your downtime? “I have a lot of outside interests but one of my passions is the search for new music. I introduced Coldplay to ABC audiences after the U.K. release of their first album and infused the network’s promos with lots of new artists working with all the labels. I’m always looking for the next big thing. Check out Bloc Party, Jesse Malin, M83 and The Faint. I love magazines. I’m a frustrated package and graphic designer, international news junkie and European history buff. French reds aren’t bad, either.”

What’s on your TiVo?Beauty and The Geek. OK, only once. It reminded me too much of high school. Entourage and The O.C. to keep me young and remind me I live in L.A. and not on planes. And Six Feet Under because we all have to go sometime.”
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