Creative All Star: John Osborn

It’s no secret that the rapid pace of the digital transformation caught some traditional agencies off guard. For years, those agencies created TV, radio and print ads, collected fees and called it a day.

But as digital gained a toehold and subsequently came to dictate many of the choices that consumers make, hundreds of new digital agencies sprang to life. They help marketers retain and grow awareness and loyalty among customers and prospects, embracing new ways of communicating via online, mobile and social media channels.

Many traditional shops realized they had to adapt or die. Omnicom’s BBDO adapted — in a way that enabled the agency not just to survive but to thrive.

Much of the credit for leading the agency’s digital transformation in the U.S. goes to John Osborn, a 25-year-plus veteran of the agency who ran the flagship New York agency as CEO from 2004 until earlier this year, when he was named CEO of sibling media agency OMD USA.

In recognition of his efforts guiding BBDO as it transitioned to the digital space, Osborn has been named a MediaPost All Star.

Osborn helped oversee the agency’s transformation into a social- and digital-driven agency, summed up by the formula: Data x context x creativity = economic multiplier.

Data, Osborn explains, “is not a tool. It’s at the heart of everything we do,” and “tells us everything about the consumer.”

With that idea in mind, two years ago, Osborn brought in Tina Allan from Rapp (also part of Omnicom) to become director of data solutions.  Working with Allan, he helped orchestrate a partnership with Annalect, the holding company’s data and analytics firm to gain access to their capabilities for clients.

A little later, In a further bid to bolster the agency’s data and analytics acumen, Osborn hired MEC and Experian veteran Sharona Sankar-King to fill the new role of executive vice president and head of marketing science. 

Osborn also encouraged partnerships with Google and Facebook to help conduct research that would lead to learnings that could optimize creative content across various social platforms. (A year ago, BBDO was MediaPost’s Social Agency Of The Year, in part due to breakthrough research conducted with Facebook.)

Clients, armed with reams of data-driven insights, are demanding increasing amounts of content from agencies. Osborn responded by putting in place a production capability to enable the agency to produce work — “good, fast and cheap” — to meet that demand. He worked closely with Greg Hahn, BBDO’s Chief Creative Officer, to help optimize use of agency’s expanding production assets  across all forms and platforms.

It’s an understatement to say that BBDO has remained relevant in the digital era. One big pay-off came last year, when, as part of broader holding company effort, BBDO was selected to lead the creative effort on AT&T’s massive $3 billion account.

The agency’s work this year illustrates that its digital transformation, while still evolving, is running on all cylinders. It staged the first live Super Bowl commercial for Snickers, which seemed to go awry, but really didn’t. Key to the effort was a 36-hour livestream buildup of content on Facebook.

For Lowe’s, to show how a little creativity is all it takes to tackle any awkward space, the shop created a film built for the vertical format of Instagram Stories. It demonstrated the transformation of a vertical space via a series of 50-plus micro-clips, all less than a second long. The upshot was to illustrate the ease of the Lowe’s DIY experience. The idea was born from a creative hackathon hosted by Facebook Creative Shop.

The use of data will be a key factor in the future success of Osborn’s newest realm, OMD. As WPP Chief Martin Sorrell recently said, agencies that link media and data in innovative and meaningful ways for clients will win.

Osborn agrees. He is excited about tackling the new challenges that await him as CEO of Omnicom’s biggest media agency. Annalect’s data scientists are embedded within OMD and other Omnicom agencies.

“It fuels and powers our agency forward,” he said. “It’s critical to mapping the customer journey.”

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