Cohen Takes Top Spot on West Coast

May 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

When Alan Cohen was a kid, he used to write away to the television networks to get program schedules. These days, he’s a guest at the network upfront presentations.
Mr. Cohen earlier this month was named managing director of Initiative West. He took a nontraditional route to run a media agency, and got there by exploring nontraditional approaches to marketing and media.
Before joining Initiative, Mr. Cohen was a top broadcast network marketing executive. At NBC, he pioneered the idea of teaming up with advertisers to help market network shows with the AT&T Comedy tour promoting Conan O’Brian’s show and a promotion with Kellogg that put NBC faces on 150 million cereal boxes.
He also helped put the network online. At ABC, he was famous for branding the network with its yellow “TV Is Good” campaign, which extolled the virtues of television at a time when many were dismissive of the medium.
He joined Initiative in 2005 as head of a newly formed innovations division.
“The core of what I was brought in to do was to establish this innovations group, which was all about emerging media, digital thinking and creative ideas to help power all the media strategies that our clients had,” Mr. Cohen said.
He also started working on new business. Soon, with clients CBS, Showtime, Lionsgate, AOL and others, Mr. Cohen had an agency within an agency dealing with entertainment marketers.
Those clients employed a number of imaginative strategies. AOL ran a series of five-second commercials on Fox. For Lionsgate’s DVD release of “Saw III,” the agency created a 24-hour television channel for Cingular mobile phones through MobiTV. To get additional reach, the agency took the branded entertainment from the channel and distributed it through 40 broadband sites, attracting 270,000 views.
In his new post, Mr. Cohen will help bring those innovative strategies and tactics to the rest of the agency’s clients.
“While I keep those other duties for the company in North America, the new role is really about integrating a little better with the rest of the agency,” he said. “I think everyone feels there are a lot of clients on the West Coast that would benefit by all the strategic thinking, by the creative ideas, and by all the digital consulting that we do in innovations.”
That reflects bigger changes in the agency’s philosophy.
“Our approach is we are morphing Initiative from a media company to a marketing communications media company,” Mr. Cohen said. “Media has now become the new marketing, because it’s all about how can you connect with the right people and get them engaged and get them to interact with you. If you run marketing for a major company, this is where your dollars are being spent, so you have to spend as much time or more on the media side as on the creative. The dynamic has changed.”
He added, “In this world that we live in, advertising and content blur and blend together. When you make your ads feel like content, it makes your media more like marketing.”
Mr. Cohen grew up in Philadelphia. “I was enamored of television, but I never even considered working there,” he recalled. “I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I always knew that I loved entertainment and media.”
In college at Boston University, he started a monthly magazine. After graduation he got a job at the publishing division of CBS under John Suhler, now a key media industry banker.
After two years working in marketing at CBS, he went to Harvard Business School, then got a job as an associate at NBC. He rotated around the company, including a stint in production at “Today,” then landed in the marketing department and built a career.
In his free time, Mr. Cohen enjoys traveling, working out and keeping up with music. Right now he listens to alternative rockers such as Jesse Malin, Bloc Party and Arctic Monkeys.
Mr. Cohen said his job and his life blend when it comes to keeping up on the latest in entertainment.
“I’m sort of paid to stay up on pop culture stuff, but I like it anyway, so it’s not really hard,” he said. “I’ve got to watch a lot of TV, read every magazine that comes out. It also adds to you being creative and makes you think about things you’re normally not thinking about. You can be inspired by walking around the streets of Prague. You never know.”
Who knew: Mr. Cohen was entrepreneurial early on, even in high school. He and a friend started a mail-order company, selling gift products, magic tricks and other novelties. “I printed up a catalog and advertised in the backs of magazines, and I gave my mailman a heart attack,” he said. He kept the business going for 3½ years, putting the money he earned toward college.


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