The Ugly Sister

Imagine Shaq in a wheelchair. Tiger Woods with the shakes. George W. Bush without his family. Rudy Giuliani without a microphone.

God-given talent. Aristocratic lineage. Media connections. Potential. It’s all useless if it isn’t used.

So it is with OMD, a year old and still struggling to find itself. Omnicom’s U.S. media network ought to be terrorizing its rivals. But it is limited by siblings TBWA\Chiat\Day, DDB and BBDO, whose powerful leaders zealously guard their own turf, and is confined to basic broadcast buying duties.

Creative shops are always bitching about how strategic media planning belongs to them. But OMD is the only media agency that finds itself rele gated to second-class citizen status.

All of its rivals either had the blessing of their siblings to offer planning and buying from the start, or had a holding company CEO who basically said, “Media planning goes to the media network. Deal with it.” The independents have always been full-service media specialists.

So, like Cinderella, OMD is kept on its knees, scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush when it should be dancing with Prince Charming at the palace.

Sure, when a big pitch is on, Omnicom has managed to cobble something together—usually teaming OMD with its planning-oriented media sister, Creative Media. OMD has also put together a small but viable internal planning team to pitch business and help smaller Omnicom shops besides the Terrible Trio.

That hasn’t helped much. OMD has won none of the big media consolidation reviews of the past year.

The bad press hasn’t helped recruiting, either. OMD’s six-month search for a global CEO still hasn’t produced a hire, even though a conga line of big names have been wooed.

Now, though, there’s a new sense of urgency. OMD president Daryl Simm is discussing various scenarios with agency chiefs and is preparing what sources describe as a “restructuring plan” to offer to Omnicom CEO John Wren for approval.

The Omnicom creative shops beg off on this one, referring questions to OMD. (This is like shooting someone in the head and, when questioned, pointing to the body and saying, “Ask him.”) Simm only says OMD “continues to evolve.”

Giving OMD more buying chores is one possibility. Other ideas being floated could help, such as unbundling DDB’s planning operation to team with OMD on media-only pitches.

OMD won’t get strategic media planning for TBWA\C\D, DDB or BBDO accounts, of course.

Some Omnicom clients, like Visa and Pepsi, want their strategic media planning to stay at their creative shops. So OMD probably won’t ever be on the MindShare or Starcom models, but something new.

Funny thing is, maybe that’s the answer. The shop’s usual spin on why it is the way it is—that it wants to remain flexible enough to customize a media solution for any client, including the ones that don’t want planning and buying consolidated—could be the seed from which a real brand difference, not an excuse, can grow.

If OMD can do that, it won’t just pull even. It might just roar ahead, wheelchair and all.