In Depth

12 to Watch: Alan Cohen

Alan Cohen, who just last spring was named CEO of OMD U.S., one of the biggest media buyers, is very familiar with what television can do for his advertising clients.

12 to Watch

That’s because Mr. Cohen’s first career—before he ever worked for a media agency—was with the networks, doing marketing and promotion for NBC and ABC.

“I think I know … the value better than many, because I actually worked on that side,” he said. While many things have changed since his days at the networks, one thing that hasn’t is that marketers are still looking for new ways to connect with customers.

Mr. Cohen wants OMD to be more than a buyer of advertising time and space for its clients. “The space we want to live in and what we want to own is strategy at the core, which is really helping all of our clients figure out the right way to reach consumers,” he said.

And while new forms of media are becoming increasingly important, “Television is still critically important and we can still aggregate some huge audiences. But the fragmentation of it just means that there are more media doctors in town just to figure out the combination of shows or networks you need to be on to be able to do it, to be able to get your message [out],” he said.

A believer in innovation, his background also means he’s aware of more things the networks might be able to do for his clients. But the big unknown for the TV business is how the economy will affect ad prices and revenues.

“I think we’re heading into a gigantic period of uncertainty for ’09,” Mr. Cohen said. “I think advertisers are still spending. We’re not really seeing a lot of people deciding they’re not going to advertise at all.”

But just because advertisers have money to spend, that doesn’t necessarily mean happy days for the networks.

“We have different strategies that we recommend based on opportunity to take advantage of where there’s softness in the market,“which is something we’re always focused on: Can we save our clients money?”


Name: Alan Cohen

Title: CEO, OMD U.S.

How long in current position: Since April 2008

Year of birth: 1956

Place of birth: Philadelphia

What to watch for: As a former network executive, Mr. Cohen will be trying to get TV advertising to work harder for clients.

Who knew? Mr. Cohen had his own mail-order company when he was in high school that sold gifts, magic tricks and other novelties; he advertised it in the backs of magazines.