OMD USA’s John Osborn Discusses Building the Media Agency of the Future with Forbes
This article was originally published by Forbes.
Bruce Rogers: Two years into your move from BBDO to OMD, what was that transition like for you, from managing a creative process and a strategy process, to media?
Osborn: So, it’s been an interesting journey. I think even going back to roughly 28 years ago when I came to BBDO, media was integrated into the fabric of the agency itself. And then media, for a variety of reasons, spun out and it went on its own path. Being on the creative side, I was always sort of like “damn, that’s a really tough move,” because our clients expect us to bring integrated solutions to the table. But frankly, I don’t think media would have grown up and become so self-sustainable, had it not broken free from the creative agency environment. It was the right thing for the time. Anyway, I got curious around the world of data and the understanding that media practitioners have regarding the consumer. Cutting to the chase, I was fortunate enough to have a great 13 year run as the CEO of BBDO NY and was then asked to run OMD.
So, I made the jump over, and I was pretty much blown away by the fire-power of the people, the tools that we have, and the clients that we were blessed to work with. Some of the clients we share still with BBDO, and others with DDB and TBWA, but today the insights are driven much more by the data and probably less by marketing or cultural trends. However, it really shouldn’t be either/or; in a perfect world we’re going to blend these both together, to form a more comprehensive view of how the consumer moves through the funnel and their journeys. It’s been complicated, though, at times. Sometimes in the past, we’ve gotten a little clunky and we’ve tripped over ourselves, so we’ve made a huge effort in the last 6 months to make some really bold change, to knock down the silos and simultaneously flatten out the organization so it’s much more fluid, more agile.
This is something that I’ve been really passionate about. And, while some of the decisions haven’t been easy, we’ve felt like we’ve made the right decisions from a structural and business standpoint.
Rogers What new challenges have emerged for brands that maybe were not the case just a few years ago?
Osborn: The holy grail is, everybody wants that “easy button”, that “silver bullet” that shows “If I invest this amount of money, behind this type of message, it’s going to lead to this exact ROI.” We’ve made a lot of progress with that, and we’ve gotten better using AI and other technologies to get more precise around that, but it’s not quite to that silver bullet everyone wants. It’s tremendous progress, and we’re on the right track.
And so our clients are coming to us saying, “The world is complex, we have questions. Break it down for me, fast, so that I can make better decisions faster on behalf of my business.” Hearing that so often from so many clients, we made that our north star. And now, everything we do is designed to help clients make better decisions, faster, in this over-accelerated, complicated world in which we live. Meeting that goal required a total reorganization of our processes, products and people. Take for example our digital, programmatic and search and social capabilities, which were previously housed in another division. We’ve migrated all of those teams and integrated them into our core offering at OMD. We now have about 420 additional people that are now at that core.
Rogers: Tell us about your Omni Platform.
Osborn: We’ve also made a huge investment, and this is Omnicom wide, with our Omni platform which is our people-based, precision marketing and insights platform. It’s supported by partnerships with multiple data sources like Axiom, Live Ramp, Neustar and Experian, which give us the greatest depth and breadth of data. Some of our competitors have spent $3, $4, $5 billion dollars buying a single data source – which then limits them to that single source. We believe renting the data from multiple sources is not only the better option for our clients, it also allows us to invest more in the platform itself. It’s open, and it’s accessible so our clients will be able to have it sit on their dashboards and our people have it on our dashboard. It’s been a real game changer for us.
We’re putting everybody through a significant amount of training and adding rigor with a process called OMD Design that ensures every OMD staffer is getting the most out of the platform. It’s our unique way of working — a planning process that takes factors like ambition and empathy into account. And, we’re continuing to on-board clients across all of our markets around the world. It’s having an economic multiplier effect on their businesses
Rogers: Is failing faster part of faster? And so how do you build that into the culture?
Osborn: There’s an always-on level of innovation that’s part of our culture as an agency. We debate a lot whether we should productize that, or if innovation should be baked into every team. It should be both. Regardless, it can’t become a separate silo. The good news is the “test and learn” cost barriers are no longer what they used to be. So we can do a whole lot of prototyping, less expensively, and we can test and learn various scenarios a lot faster than we could in the past. They say if you’re not failing you’re not trying. We have failed in some instances. But you learn a ton by failing, and alternatively you learn a ton by succeeding, and then scaling.
Rogers: What’s the key for you and OMD in competing in a really highly competitive marketplace?
Osborn: It’s a business where it’s not just the head, it’s the heart. And increasingly, it’s the hands. You have to understand the intelligence that we need to apply. It’s the heart because we’re still talking about human beings here at the end of the day. What’s going to motivate them, inspire or incent them, to take action and do something? It’s not just talent that is going to get it done; it’s not just the product like Omni; it’s not just a way of working or a process like OMD Design. All these pieces need to come together, connected by a metaphorical “red thread.” That’s sometimes better than drowning people with volumes of power-point slides (though there seems to always be a time and a place for that!).
I think we need to become better storytellers in the media business, and that comes back full circle to what we’re talking about in the beginning of the conversation: how do we take some of the keys from the creative world and some of the expertise in the media world, and fuse them back together again? Not in the historic sense when media was down in the dark corner of some floor in the building. But in a brave new way, sometimes customized for clients, in which media helps drive the whole marketing mix. Again, it’s about decisions and choices we must make. There’s always a premium for a big idea, but for normal business, the important decisions are media based even before we get to what creative execution we deliver.
Bruce: It’s always the elephant in the room when we’re talking to the big holding companies. Can you compete and win against the consulting advisory services that are up and coming and growing fast?
Osborn: I like where we sit. I can see the logic chain some of the recent moves and some of the other big bets that are happening in the space. However I think the strategic consultant business is sometimes a different business than our business. It’s often more project driven, for example. In contrast, we’re embedded in our client’s business and understand not only their needs, but their consumers’ behaviors, wants and needs. While interesting things are happening with consultants, I think they will find that it isn’t that easy to scale that expertise.
Rogers: Where is the balance between data and creative?
Osborn: I personally believe that the pendulum is swinging so hard toward such granular, finite focus on data, that I think we’ll get to a point where we know enough about people and how they behave. Now, whythey behave the way they do is, to me, very interesting. I also think people are going to get fed up at some point being constantly bombarded by always-on messaging that is highly transactional in nature. So, I think there’s going to be an equal and opposite point at which people are going to be looking for more crafted storytelling. I think people do like a good story. They’re built that way. We have emotion for a reason and I think adding more emotion into the process is a really powerful thing. For us, using the OMD Design approach – bringing empathy and more cultural cues into how we look at media and the distribution of creative messages – is something that we’re very passionate about.
Bruce: Thank you.