OMD Is Ad Age's Media Agency of the Year

Led by Alan Cohen, Shop Snatches Up Clients Looking for Untapped Opportunities

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NEW YORK ( -- During his 20-year stint as a marketing executive at NBC and ABC, Alan Cohen was nagged by the feeling that his media agency partners failed to deliver on their potential.

kindle nurse jackie
NEW CHAPTER FOR SHOWTIME: OMD built buzz for 'Nurse Jackie' on the Kindle.
U.S. CEO: Alan Cohen
CLIENTS: McDonald's, Lowe's, Intel, PepsiCo, Monster
"I knew as a marketing person what I wanted, and that was intelligence and strategy," Mr. Cohen said. "And I wasn't getting that back then," he said, recalling his time at the TV networks between the '80s and early 2000s.

That frustration was something he carried with him when he leaped to the media agency side of the business in 2005. His spent three and a half years at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative, and in April 2008, was named U.S. CEO of Omnicom Group's OMD.

While it wasn't the media agency of yesteryear -- the kind that frets about faxing flow charts and orienting products toward a singular demographic -- there was room to expand OMD's capabilities. A year and change later, Mr. Cohen's vision of cementing a media shop around strategy, intelligence and the ability to expertly manage marketing dollars was on full display. "We made it a more proactive and fast-moving marketing organization ... now we are doing the marketing, consulting and strategy on product and brand launches. The landscape we work in is so much broader today because of the media fragmentation."

Daryl Simm, head of Omnicom Media Group, said the agency has always been lauded for its ideas, but the difference in 2009 is those ideas are fused with much stronger analytical capability. "Alan and his team have risen to the challenge of OMD's clients," Mr. Simm said. "Clients like Lowe's, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Intel expect innovation in term of leadership ideas. And the management team at OMD has delivered."

In addition to those blue-chippers, OMD in 2009 attracted some $800 million worth of new business from the likes of Monster and Time Warner Cable. It also added digital services for existing client PepsiCo ($85 million).

New services
To rise above the pack, the agency has added a number of new service offerings for its clients, such as OMD Pop, a consulting group providing pop-culture reports on offline and online trends marketers can implement into marketing programs, and the Communications Lab @ OMD -- a research partnership with CBS Vision and its Television City research facility in Las Vegas. But it's been the shop's Ignition Factory that's been responsible for a lot of the groundbreaking client work.

For Showtime, OMD managed to crack the code on using the Kindle as an advertising medium. To launch its newest series "Nurse Jackie," OMD structured a deal that provided users of the e-reader with a free, downloadable version of the pilot script. The premier episode became the network's highest-rated ever at the time.

"Traditional media can't do that for me," said George DeBolt, senior VP-media, promotions and partnership marketing at Showtime. "The fact that they got me [to the Kindle] first and we dabbled there before anyone else makes it truly innovative."

Another recent project was designing the interactive video ad insert that ran in Entertainment Weekly for Pepsi Max and CBS's 2009-2010 TV season. "It has to start with living and breathing this stuff and knowing what people will and won't be interested in," said Jon Haber, U.S. director of the Ignition Factory. "That's something that Alan has ingrained in a lot of us, where we try and think of things as content and entertainment. Why else are people going to pull it into their lives when they are so empowered to block it out?"

"We don't want to take orders at the end of the creative process, which is how it's still done in some cases today," Mr. Haber said. "We want to be in those early strategy meetings so the media and communications ideas come from our research and consumer insights. Then we're driving the creative process."

For Dockers, OMD pitched the retailer an interactive shakable ad for an iPhone app. "You never know what an agency is going to come back with, and they came back with something that was definitely the first of its kind," Karen Riley-Grant, director of global consumer marketing, said. With no major above-the-line campaign in 2009, she credits the app, which garnered numerous awards, with a 300% increase in chatter -- a number she said is unprecedented for the brand. "The interest and engagement with our target consumer was off the charts and it set the stage for what we could do in that space."

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