Media Agency of the Year 2009

Media Agency of the Year Honorable Mention: OMD

No Longer Just a Media Department for Creative Agencies, OMD's New Leadership Showed the Agency Can Stand on Its Own

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- One year ago we called out OMD for its second consecutive lackluster new-business performance. In 2008, the Omnicom Group-owned agency responded by snatching up nearly every major piece of business available -- except for the ones that our agency of the year, Initiative, took.

Alan Cohen, CEO of OMD USA
Alan Cohen, CEO of OMD USA
What was most impressive about the wins is that they weren't done on the backs of one of Omnicom's creative agencies. All of the major wins -- Visa's global consolidation ($650 million in billings); Intel ($300 million); Lilly ($250 million); Time Warner Cable ($135 million); and Levi's ($50 million) -- were unbundled pitches. Severing its performance from that of BBDO, TBWA, and DDB should finally put to rest one of the main criticisms that's long dogged OMD: that the agency is still more of a media department than a stand-alone partner for marketers.

The other impressive aspect is that this new-business haul came despite the fact that OMD went most of the year without a global CEO and part of the year without a U.S. chief. Alan Cohen, formerly of Initiative, was named to the U.S. job in April, but it wasn't until November that OMD closed a long search for a global chief by naming Mainardo de Nardis to the post.

The hires solved a pair of crucial leadership issues that had vexed the agency. OMD had gone without a global CEO for the 18 months since Joe Uva left the post to head up Univision, leaving Daryl Simm to do double duty in that role and as head of Omnicom Media Group. But its biggest move and the one that paid off most quickly was the poaching of Mr. Cohen from Interpublic Group of Co.'s Initiative in April, making him the U.S. CEO. Mr. Cohen was one of the main cogs, along with Initiative CEO Richard Beaven and U.S. president Tim Spengler, who helped navigate the extraordinary turnaround of the Interpublic agency.

"I didn't think I would ever leave Initiative because I loved it and got to do so much [there]," said Mr. Cohen. "[When] OMD called, it was very tough not to listen. I'm not sure who could resist the opportunity to be CEO of OMD, and I just had to do it."

Smart moves
And while the move to bring Mr. Cohen aboard looked good from the beginning -- he ran off a string new-business wins including Time Warner Cable and Levi's -- the agency looked even smarter for making the move a couple of months later when CBS, an account Mr. Cohen ran at Initiative, shifted its $135 million media-buying business to OMD without a review so that Mr. Cohen and the former Initiative executives he brought with him to OMD could once again manage the business.

CEO of OMD Worldwide
Chief digital officer
Charged with modernizing the iconic brand, OMD ran an effective product-integration effort for Hershey's with "Project Runway" that included contestants using Hershey's products in their designs.
Aside from helping bring in new accounts Mr. Cohen has also launched a series of new client offerings including Ignition Factory, which focuses on combining emerging media into OMD's creative, technology and marketing executions. The group has already produced award-winning programs for Nissan, Visa and State Farm. He also captained the idea behind the agency's new "economic recovery plan" through which OMD has met with every client and offered to rework their media budgets as a way to relieve some of the economic stress created by the recession.

One of Ignition Factory's first endeavors was a new media-based project for Doritos involving a partnership with Microsoft's Xbox, the crux of which was what OMD referred to as the creation of the first user-generated Xbox Live Arcade game. Users were asked to submit their gaming ideas through an online community, created by Ignition Factory, with the winning submission to be developed into a game by Xbox and a video-game developer. The online community eventually grew to 600,000 members, more than 2,300 game ideas were submitted and the winning submission, "Doritos Dash of Destruction," got more than 1 million downloads in its first month of availability.

But despite the impressive list of names and staggering dollar figures -- U.S. billings, which include new business and organic growth, topped $1.75 billion in 2008 -- the agency also introduced some forward-thinking programs and pulled off a number of high-profile and effective campaigns for clients including McDonald's, Hershey's and Nissan.

To help the 100-year-old Hershey brand shed the image of the "candy I ate as a kid," OMD partnered it with "Project Runway." As part of the product integration, "Runway" contestants were asked to create garments with all of the materials they could grab from the Hershey's Time Square store. OMD also built a Hershey's site containing videos and a Hershey's-sponsored consumer-generated design contest. The integration caused a spike in Hershey's sales following the airing of the original episode as well as reruns. The site also generated 20 million impressions online, and, overall, the integration was valued at more than $600,000 -- the equivalent of 20 30-second commercials.

Big Mac Chant-Off
Like many other media agencies wanting to prove they can effectively maneuver within the social-media realm, OMD launched a young adult-targeted campaign for McDonald's centered around the 40th anniversary of the Big Mac.

After realizing the original Big Mac jingle still had high consumer recall, the agency partnered with MySpace to launch the Big Mac Chant-Off and asked users to create their own Big Mac chants, with the winner getting a spot in a national McDonald's commercial. During the time of the effort, McDonald's saw Big Mac sales increase from prepromotion periods. The MySpace Big Mac profile got 1,400 submissions, 1.5 million page views, 1.1 million unique visitors and 6,564 friend requests.

OMD goes into 2009 having established itself as a top global player. Along with winning the Visa and Intel global business assignments in 2008, OMD also won one of, if not the, biggest pitches of the year, the $1 billion consolidated Renault-Nissan media account for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. As a result it will now manage buying media for Nissan in 24 countries and for Renault in 30. OMD already had the Nissan's global media business while sibling TBWA runs global creative for the automaker.

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