Typically when clients got pitched new ideas by media buying agency OMD, they'd meet with a modern-day "Mad Men"-like assortment of TV buyers, digital strategists and the occasional out-of-home or mobile-marketing planner. But in recent months, an extra chair has been added to the table for OMD Sound, the Omnicom agency's new music intelligence unit and a first-of-its-kind investment group for the world's second-largest agency holding company.
Founded earlier this year by OMD CEO Alan Cohen and headed by account directors Griffin Sweet in New York and Matthew Fox in Los Angeles, OMD Sound was created to give clients custom insights into unique music-related buying opportunities, with the eventual goal of making music a line item on advertisers' budgets in the same way that TV, print and radio have been for decades. And considering OMD's blockbuster client list, there's already plenty of music-related activity happening -- Apple, Pepsi, Warner Bros., CBS, State Farm and McDonald's lead a long roster of brands that helped make OMD 2012's largest media buying firm in the United States with $13 billion in billings, according to Research Co. Evaluating the Media Agency Industry.
"We believe anything that touches a consumer is media, and our job is to connect brands with fans," Cohen says. "Anything that touches music could possibly be content for digital, content for television-the music channel Diddy's launching [Revolt] has a lot of interest from our clients." OMD Sound is more of a music-marketing strategy group than an attempt to help clients get a piece of the next hot tour, he adds. "Anyone can say they're in the sponsorship business. We just want to go a little deeper."
Though OMD Sound is a first-of-its-kind strategic unit at a major media agency, the top ad holding companies have embraced more William Morris Endeavor-like roles in recent years to leverage more talent-based opportunities for clients. WPP's Group M media buying unit, for example, started an entertainment and sports partnerships division to better harness talent and naming-rights opportunities-inking current tour deals with Tim McGraw and Luke Bryan for clients Pennzoil and Texaco, respectively.
More recently, OMD Sound distributed a cassette-shaped flash drive this spring introducing the new business unit to clients along with 15 songs from up-and-coming bands like Guards, MS MR, St. Lucia, Atlas Genius and Charli XCX (plus a track from David Bowie's "The Next Day," as some clients prefer familiarity). OMD's Sweet helped get each track individually licensed and approved by the act's respective label and publisher in two weeks, an effort to demystify any qualms brands might have about music clearances.
Agencies of all sorts touch music-related ad budgets these days, from talent bookers (Creative Artists Agency, WME, ICM, UTA's United Entertainment Group) to branding specialists (Translation, Cornerstone, MAC Presents, Omnicom's GMR Marketing) to management companies (Red Light, Roc Nation)-all amounting to a record $1.3 billion projected to be spent on music festivals, tours and venues in 2013, according to sponsorship analytics firm IEG. OMD Sound is looking to help clients build multiple-year strategies around music, some of which likely won't start until next year.
"Having a seat at the table now means that brands can start thinking about music as part of their overall brief, and figure out which opportunities best fit the upcoming campaigns and initiatives they have coming," OMD's Fox says.
An early look at what OMD Sound might accomplish was shown to clients in February 2012, when the agency's Ignition Factory (a digital investment unit) partnered with Spotify for a weekend-long hackathon where clients like PepsiCo, McDonald's, State Farm and the CW were pitched and paid for winning ideas for potential Spotify apps. The event helped shape Spotify's then-nascent ad model.