By: Chris Heine, Adweek
David Cohen, Chief Media Officer, UM

Since March, when 11-year Universal McCann veteran David Cohen became chief media officer of the global media giant, he has transformed its culture for the digital age—switching out traditional groups with new ones, and shifting to meet the evolving needs of clients such as Coca-Cola, L’Oréal, Chrysler and Exxon Mobil.

Cohen has replaced UM’s siloed teams for TV, print and digital media buyers with so-called Integrated Investment contingents in charge of central disciplines. For example, one team services clients with predominantly print-buying needs, though it also includes TV, digital and mobile specialists. Another is focused on TV but augmented by print, digital and mobile experts. And Cohen has created a Decision Sciences unit to tackle Big Data and rev up sales with real-time tweaks.

All that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Media planning is not a discipline [anymore],” Cohen says. “For instance, we have another new team called Portfolio Management. I know that sounds very ‘financial services,’ but it’s our belief that over time media will become like how an investment banker manages a portfolio of assets, watches performance in real time and optimizes based on marketplace results.”

He adds, “While we still believe that media is extremely relationship-driven, we think Portfolio Management is a better representation of our media-planning function.”

Cohen’s inside-and-out makeover of UM over the last year doesn’t end there, however. He’s also been busy ramping up the digital dexterity of the company’s staff of hundreds.

“In an agency environment, training is sometimes viewed as a luxury and takes a backseat,” he says. “But in order to be a future-focused agency, it’s never been more important to take our folks through our vision, our tool kit and how we go to market. We have put more emphasis on that idea this year than ever because we had to. We had to educate our folks to stay out in front of the competition.”