2012 Agencies of the Year Shortlist: OMD Canada

Strong leaders in Toronto and Montreal and a new planning approach filled this media shop’s shelves with trophies When Cathy Collier joined OMD Canada as CEO in August 2011, her goal was to continue to evolve the media buying and planning agency by strengthening two key areas: digital and analytics. And that’s exactly what she […]

Strong leaders in Toronto and Montreal and a new planning approach filled this media shop’s shelves with trophies

When Cathy Collier joined OMD Canada as CEO in August 2011, her goal was to continue to evolve the media buying and planning agency by strengthening two key areas: digital and analytics.

And that’s exactly what she did.

Increased focus on digital innovation combined with the agency’s ability to create result-driven work has led the Omnicom-owned agency to a long list of awards, account wins and key hires over the past 12 months, and put it on the Agency of the Year shortlist for the first time since 2006.

It started last January when Collier decided to integrate planning into the client strategy teams. Previously, planning was part of the digital group, which was kept “very separate” from the rest of the teams, she says.

“We have what I now call communication strategy or media strategy, not traditional and digital. It all has to originate in one place,” says Collier, who is based in the agency’s Toronto office. Despite the slight shuffle, the agency kept its digital specialty group intact “to lead us in terms of creative technology [and] in terms of negotiating great deals with suppliers.”

Over the last year the agency moved aggresively to “make its audience buying tactics channel- and device-agnostic,” says Collier. The agency was an early mover in the RTB space and has already integrated its agency side platform with the Facebook Exchange beta product in Canada.

Meanwhile, the Montreal office rebranded as Touché OMD with Touché founder Alain Desormiers assuming the title of CEO and Nicolas Marin joining as general manager. PHD (which also bears the Touché name in Quebec) and OMD are still separate brands with two separate leaders, says Collier. Desormiers, who founded Touché in 1995 before selling to Omnicom in 2004, is the only link between the two agencies.

“It was a huge step forward for our Montreal operation to have his leadership… We need a strong Montreal office and that was the kick start we needed to get there,” says Collier.
In February the agency hired TBWA’s former chief strategy officer, Christine Maw, as managing director. Collier remained fairly tight-lipped when asked if Maw’s hire signalled a more creative direction for OMD.

She did say OMD has evolved to better understand the consumer journey and “matching relevant messages to relevant times and allowing that to inspire a lot of creativity and innovation.”

While OMD was putting all of its internal pieces in place, it was applying this creative media thinking to its more traditional clients. The industry liked what it saw, and started handing out awards.

The agency drove off with the Best of Show honour and two gold trophies at Marketing’s Media Innovation Awards (MIAs) for Nissan’s “Innovation that Excites—Altima Launch” thanks to a series of breakthrough “media firsts.”

Nissan executed newspaper/digital domination in 14 national and local market newspapers: From four-page cover wraps and the first masthead ticker ads on every Postmedia newspaper page, to the Toronto Star’s first die-cut wrap cover with a series of third-page centre spread section banners. And by employing a new augmented reality technology from Postmedia (Layar), readers were able to engage with the ads through their mobile devices. Nissan also sponsored four major Canada Day fireworks shows that ended with a 90-second 3D holographic movie-style trailer projected onto a thin screen of water.

The agency also won gold at the MIAs for McDonald’s, Subaru and Infiniti, with other awards for Rogers, Coty and Mountain Dew.

“OMD had played a crucial role in identifying the most strategic approach to leveraging our messages,” says Joel Yashinsky, senior vice-president & chief marketing officer at McDonald’s Canada “[OMD] has worked with Tribal DDB to bring ‘Our Food. Your Questions.’ to life in a manner that reflects what this important and creative approach to our brand health is truly all about.”

“I don’t think the MIA wins were an accident,” says Collier. “We worked really hard with all of our clients and our partners to do innovative creative work and in this time of change we have to continue testing new things.”

OMD’s fearless and creative approach to planning, buying and negotiating along with improvements in the digital space helped the agency attract new business including Trader Corporation’s AutoTradeer.ca, Milk West, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Luxottica.

Perhaps the most notable (and controversial) was the Labatt Breweries of Canada win that fell through less than a month after OMD had been awarded the account. The break-up caused much speculation about the negotiation process, but the fact remains that OMD’s pitch beat those of 14 other agencies.

“Through that three-month pitch and all the way through it we were clearly the winners, so I think that was evidence of everything we had put in place we were doing properly,” says Collier.

The work that OMD has won is evidence that the agency is working as a team, says Collier, who is quick to praise the agencies it works closely with such as TBWA and TribalDDB. But judging by the agency’s track record from the past year, OMD is also a great partner to have.

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