Media Agency of the Year: Global, OMD

Hot off its Cannes wins, the agency continues to make beautiful music for clients including eHarmony, Frito-Lay

It was a match made in media heaven.

In January of last year, OMD was in its last pitch meeting in Los Angeles with top dating site eHarmony when Alan Cohen, CEO of OMD U.S., realized that his agency had finally, as he puts it, “gotten the casting correct.”

After an enormous effort to reorganize and launch new units, OMD’s architecture, with just the right mix of analytics and innovation, was at last clicking—and turned out to help win the eHarmony account.

“It all came together in that room at that moment, and then every time we pitched last year, it had the same feeling,” recalls Cohen. “It set the stage for the whole year.”

After a decade in business, OMD has mastered the art of the win. Over the last year, Adweek’s Global Media Agency of the Year has been on a roll, winning seven out of eight pitches. At the global level, the company’s newly minted clients include Levi’s, Tourism Australia and Groupe Bel, accounting for $444 million in revenue.

OMD hasn’t just cracked the code when it comes to attracting new clients. In June, the agency brought home eight Media Lions from Cannes, making it the most honored media network at the festival. Prizes the agency picked up there include a gold Lion for Best Use of Branded Content for its work on Nissan’s “GT Academy” campaign.

OMD Worldwide CEO Mainardo de Nardis says of the Cannes haul: “It’s very difficult to measure creativity. The way that we’ve measured it is that we wanted to win more awards than anybody else. It’s not because we like the statues in reception, but because it’s a KPI [key performance indicator] for us. It’s a way of measuring what we can really deliver in terms of creativity and innovation.”

De Nardis took the helm as global CEO in 2009, relocating to New York from London after 30 years in advertising, most of them shuttling back and forth across the pond.

Born in Italy to a long line of vintners, de Nardis bucked family tradition at age 8, when he announced that he wanted to work in the advertising business. Now, at 51, he oversees an international media agency that posted a 14 percent uptick in global revenue last year to just over $2 billion.

From a brand perspective, his international DNA makes him an appealing partner, say OMD clients.

“Mainardo is a global citizen and it makes a huge difference,” says Antonio Lucio, CMO of longtime client Visa. “He will approach any conversation through the eyes of the U.S. market and also through the eyes of international markets.”

Industry accolades aside, OMD has also expressed its creativity by way of account activation. For example, to help in recasting Frito-Lay after its salty snacks went au natural, OMD last year integrated the popular Facebook game FarmVille. As a result, Frito-Lay racked up 1.8 million “likes” in a single day, dethroning Nabisco’s Oreo as the fastest-growing Facebook brand page, according to Guinness World Records.

Last summer, OMD, in partnership with client GE, launched Innovation Incubator, a digital media lab wherein a dozen carefully selected student entrepreneurs from the likes of MIT, Harvard and Stanford developed digital media and marketing solutions.

“What we’re trying to do is find the next generation of what is coming down the road,” says Cohen.

Cohen sees initiatives such as Incubator not as mere sidelines but as vital for the agency going forward.

“The new things we’re doing often get an audience beyond our normal day-to-day clients, and that allows us to really make an impact on media, marketing, promotion and digital,” he says. “It adds value to our clients in a way they haven’t seen before and our competition doesn’t seem to be doing.”

This forward-thinking next-gen approach has gained traction with clients.

“I find [OMD] very future facing and always very proactive in looking for big opportunities to grow business and try new things,” says Kim Kadlec, worldwide vp of the global marketing group at Johnson & Johnson, an OMD global client.

When another client, Intel, sought to bolster the image of its core processors among designers and innovators of technology, OMD went the experiential route, teaming with Google and Ashton Kutcher’s Katalyst Media to create Intel IdeaJam, brainstorming sessions that connected individuals across various creative fields, including music, comedy, animation, video and education.

To kick off IdeaJam last November, Kutcher announced that participating content producers would have 48 hours to create six pieces of innovative digital content, the results of which can now be found on Google and YouTube.

For OMD, such partnerships are key not only to boosting the profile of its clients but to redefining advertising creative and the media plan as we know them.

“You have to have the creative auspices of people like Katalyst be part of [the process],” says Cohen. “The solution is never going to be seen otherwise—and you’re going to be talking to yourself. We all know the clutter that’s out there.”

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