Media All Star: Alan Cohen

Alan Cohen most likely qualified as an All Star long before there was an annual awards series recognizing the best and brightest innovators in digital media. In fact, he has been genuinely innovating digital media, advertising and marketing — at scale — long before anyone even knew how to scale it.

As the head of marketing at NBC during the early 1990s, Cohen pioneered some of the first true mass interactive media and marketing experiences, leveraging the power of NBC’s extensive reach, promotional value of its programs and own on-air promotion, coupled with the in-store and offline marketing power of some the world’s biggest consumer marketers — even before there was a World Wide Web.

In fact, Cohen’s early digital interactive marketing executions occasionally were too successful for their time. At a time when many big brands were still dabbling with CD-ROMs, interactive kiosks and early online services, Cohen put together deals that generated true mass. So much mass, in fact, that Cohen’s ideas occasionally proved bigger than technology could support for their time.

In one early experiment, Cohen ran promotions for brands on NBC shows that included telephone feedback loops that literally overloaded the in-bound phone systems of the most powerful phone bank in the world at that time — AT&T’s and American Express’ Call Interactive joint venture.

After cutting his teeth on emerging digital media as head of marketing at NBC and ABC, Cohen jumped to the agency side, developing the “Innovations” unit inside Interpublic’s Initiative unit. He continued to push the envelope of digital storytelling for brands at Interpublic before leaving to run Omnicom’s OMD unit where digital innovation exploded into everything from programmatic media trading systems to the first “hack-a-thons” ever created for major consumer brands. When Cohen left OMD last year to launch Giant Spoon with MediaPost All Star alum Jon Haber (class of 2007) and two other partners, it was to create a “new kind of agency designed for the future of marketing and media.” While much of the futuristic work Giant Spoon has worked on since leverages new generations of digital media, the core principle is the same one Cohen has been utilizing since he began working in media: innovative thinking and creative executions that excite and activate people.

"I feel like we're reinventing what media means," Cohen once told MediaPost when running Initiative’s Innovations team. He continues to feel that way today.

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