OMD turns 25: Keeping ahead of the trends in a rapidly evolving media landscape

On March 31st 2023, the world’s largest media network celebrated 25 years in business, since opening its very first office in Hong Kong in 1998. StopPress sat down with OMD NZ CEO Nigel Douglas to delve into the secret to the agency’s sustained growth.

Emerging in the 90s due to the growing complexity of the media landscape, with clients wanting more value, transparency and negotiating power, OMD has grown from three employees to 2,400 staff in 13 APAC offices and 12,000 in 100+ countries worldwide.

From an integrated agency such as that depicted in the popular television show Mad Men, through to a scaled-up media-buying operation driven by technology advancements, to the current model, OMD has remained nimble in order to continue offering clients effective media solutions.

Although not with the company at the time, OMD NZ CEO Nigel Douglas says the “decoupling” that OMD did in the 90s, positioned the organisation well to evolve with the digital evolution.

When the noughties hit, OMD was a pioneer in the programmatic buying space and Douglas says they’ve remained leaders in this realm ever since.

Locally, in 2007 three agencies controlled by Omnicom; OMD New Zealand, Media Direction and the Clemenger BBDO media division in Wellington, merged to become OMD New Zealand, while the 2010s saw the agency introduce more of a developed data offering as the digital evolution continued on.

“That set us up quite well for, again, further evolutions to now, when we’re sort of entering the cookie-less era,” Douglas says.

With the industry set to be more reliant on first-party data as Google bans the cookie, agencies need a much more advanced data offering including tools, talent and technology which Douglas says OMD already has at its disposal.

OMD’s social content partnership offering with its Fuse team has become increasingly significant and now has around a 30 person team.

“It’s a real strength of the agency,” Douglas says. “All those strategic business units, all under one roof, under one P&L, have become highly-specialised offerings in their own right.”

When Douglas took over it became his challenge to manage these different offerings and in 2019 OMD acquired the largest media agency in the South Island, ImMediate.

“At that point it was quite hard to continue to grow [organically], so that presented an opportunity to grow through an acquisition into a market that had been left to its own devices for quite some time by all the multinationals. While everyone else had dived out, we dived back in.”

It was here that it became clear it was time for a remodel to what Douglas calls the “hub-spoke model”. 

This model means OMD NZ’s specialised units are located in the larger and more advanced market, which has a great capacity to attract talent, provide training, and offer all necessary resources, assistance, and support. This core team is based in Auckland, with around 150 team members, and makes up OMD NZ’s main hub, where account managers, strategists, and clients operate.

The Wellington team consists of around 30 team-members, and Christchurch has 10, bringing the total number of staff close to 200.

More recently, OMD has introduced an e-commerce offering called Transact which enables the team to be able to consult and advise clients in this space as well.

“Once again, we can just plug in more spokes into the model and build those services into our offering.”

Having been in the industry for around 33 years, Douglas says he often jokes that there has been more change in the last three years than in the first 30.

And that rate of change isn’t slowing down. AI and the Metaverse are expected to shake the industry up next and are in fact already doing so.

“We’ve been using AI tools for a while to advance some of the things in the work that we do and it’s accelerating massively. Because of our position in the market, we end up doing a lot of beta testing. So media will often come to us with new products and tools to test and learn on behalf of the market. These are the sort of things that we’re kind of doing to make sure that we’re, again, right at the front of the evolution of the market.”

As for the next 25 years, Douglas suspects it will look very, very different.

“We’re making very clear distinctions between what we’ve described as planning and buying as thinking and doing. A lot of the doing is clearly going to be done by robots. But the thinking for the foreseeable future is coming from humans. We’re just trying to make sure that we are identifying what those trends are and preparing for the eventualities and progressing towards what that future looks like.”

OMD is currently a semi-finalist in Campaign’s Global Agency of the Year for 2022 and is ranked the best performing global media network overall by RECMA. Additionally, OMD is also the world’s most effective media agency network in the Effie Effectiveness Index and WARC Effective 100 Rankings. 

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