Media buyer Initiative has hired former network marketing honcho Alan Cohen to head a new group that will work on branded entertainment, new technology and other strategies for reaching consumers with clients’ marketing messages.
Mr. Cohen was named executive VP and managing partner of Initiative Innovations in the United States. Initiative has had an Innovations unit in Europe for several years.
“It’s not just branded entertainment,” said Mr. Cohen, who was most recently president of marketing for 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and previously held positions as a marketing executive at ABC and NBC. “It’s a broader approach to being able to reach out to our clients and get their messages out to their customers in all these new ways.”
Most media buying agencies have been setting up units to produce branded entertainment for their clients. Last week, for example, Carat named veteran advertising and TV network executive Michael Yudin to head Carat Entertainment.
Initiative has been doing branded entertainment work through its national broadcast buying unit headed by Tim Spengler, said Alec Gerster, CEO of Initiative Worldwide. The agency was responsible for AOL promotions featuring the “running man” character, which appeared in programming including last season’s World Series broadcasts.
“I’m very pleased with what the national broadcast group has done in this area,” Mr. Gerster said, adding that Mr. Cohen will be able to pick up where the broadcast group left off.
“The other part of the equation is the ability to execute. Everybody’s got their day jobs, and Alan has experience in actually executing this stuff. It can get very complex and very time-consuming, and doing it right is not all that easy.”
Initiative is owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies and works with Magna Global, which handles media negotiations for Interpublic agencies and has its own entertainment division.
“This move was done in cooperation and coordination with Magna,” Mr. Gerster said, and Mr. Cohen will work through Magna in some cases.
“If I’m going to be in the area of client-produced or client-developed programming, I’m clearly going to do that through Magna. If I’m in the area of figuring out the video-on-demand puzzle, that may not relate to Magna,” Mr. Gerster said. “I would expect Alan would be in a position to make us more effective users of Magna,” as well as sports marketing, event marketing and public relations companies owned by IPG.
Mr. Gerster said Mr. Cohen is a good fit to lead Initiative Innovations in the United States. “It’s one thing to be able to not only know what’s out there and to have the connections and all that, but it’s also very important to be able to put [it] in the context of what a client needs. I think Alan will be very capable about doing that,” he said.
Mr. Cohen said that through his work at the networks, he knows the producers and studios. But he said the Innovations work will go beyond individual shows.
“We can make the client’s marketing plan work so that by the time the show is even on the air, they’ve already gotten a lot of value out of their association,” he said. During his years at ABC and NBC, he said, “We demonstrated how, by using a new technology platform for advertising or marketing, or a live event or Internet blogs; there are ways of attaching some of these things to get more buzz and exposure for the regular commercials. People actually stop when they watch them on television.”
Carat Entertainment is part of Carat’s National Broadcast Group, and Mr. Yudin will report to Andy Donchin, executive VP and director of national broadcast. Carat’s clients include Pfizer, Kia Motors, New Line and RadioShack.
In the ’80s and ’90s Mr. Yudin worked for a number of TV companies, including Paramount Television, and put together sponsored programming deals for advertisers such as Chrysler Corp. He also worked at a number of ad agencies and was involved with media deals for Coca-Cola and Miller Beer.
“The only thing different now is that the environment is better and more receptive,” Mr. Yudin said. “This is not a reinvention of the wheel.”
Mr. Yudin will continue to operate his production company, MY Productions, which has produced shows for Spike TV and Comedy Central.