Omelet: Flipping the Traditional Agency Model Upside-down
Since the company was founded back in 2004, Omelet has quickly established itself as an agency of the future. HBO, Walmart, and Whole Foods are just some of the impressive clients that are now turning towards Omelet to create breakthrough messaging that resonates with consumers. With a team of over 100 creative minds based out of Los Angeles, Omelet has created some memorable work, from a television spot with Aaron Paul for Xbox One to an experiential campaign to promote the new season of VEEP.
Mark Anderson, Chief Experiential Officer of Omelet, sat down with us recently to talk about the rapidly changing media landscape and Omelet’s agility to deliver meaningful brand experiences to their client’s customers.
Tell us a little bit about Omelet. What were the reasons for starting Omelet and how has the company grown over time?
Mark: There were originally four founders, three of which worked at a major advertising agency out here in Los Angeles. Those three believed that there were a lot more ways to reach audiences than a traditional 30-second television spot and billboards. At the time, there was a lot of evolution happening with branded content, and social media was getting big. They felt that the giant agency holding company model was too big of a ship to turn fast enough to take advantage of the new markets that were popping up.
So they left and started Omelet. One of the things they decided, which I think has set us apart from the beginning, is not to own or buy media. The platform which we stand on is that ideas lead to media. When a client comes to us with a business problem and needs to tell a certain story to a certain audience, we can offer them many different ways to do it: from experiential and print to social and TV. We don’t have any investment in a particular medium, which allows us to stay totally agnostic. A lot of the big agencies buy inventories of media and they have to build ideas around selling that media to their clients. Our strategy has kept us as a topline creative shop, which has set us apart. We celebrated our 10-year mark this past August, which was a big anniversary for us.
What does Omelet do better than other agencies that are out there?
Mark: First, we don’t have any big agency baggage when it comes to strategy and creative. We throw out the playbook and start from scratch with each new project. Often times we deliver an approach that is so unconventional it makes our clients a little bit uncomfortable. For us, we feel like that’s when we’ve done our job. A lot of clients come to Omelet when they’re sick of just kicking the can down the road.
Second, we really thrive when speed is required. We’re growing as an agency but we’ve focused on remaining nimble. The holding companies just can’t keep up with that. We’ve been asked to produce ten global TV spots in only three weeks, and we delivered. Our production model and our staffing model are set up to promote that sort of environment. And nimble doesn’t always mean getting results fast; it also means being able to change direction if we’re not getting the results that are required.
What’s ultimately been Omelet’s main driver for success?
Mark: It would be awesome to sit here and say that we focus on market disruption or we had a really pivotal management restructuring or we launched some key new divisions – all of that is true, and sounds really fancy and great - but at the end of the day, it’s about the people. We have some of the most talented people in the industry. Our assets, at the end of the day, walk out the door, get in a car, and go home. We’ve really set ourselves apart by curating what I think is not only a wonderful group of people but also a group of people that’s highly creative.
We also have a “No BS” policy as far as how we speak to each other and how we speak to our clients. I feel that’s really refreshing to people. We focus really hard on having real, human conversations with our clients and help our clients have those kinds of conversations with their audiences as well.
How does Omelet gather customer insights and how are they being used to shape strategy?
Mark: In terms of our own clients and partners, we gather insights by maintaining an intimate relationship. When they come to Los Angeles for a 30-second shoot, they work out of our office, and we travel with them to meetings that they have all over the country. We believe in real-time feedback both with our clients and from a cultural standpoint with our own employees. So we always encourage feedback.
To gather insight on our clients’ customers, we’re doing focus groups and man-on-the-street interviews, using third-party resources, and really doing as much research as humanly possible with the time allowed. We have a strategy group here that’s made up of some of the best strategists in the world. They bridge the insights that we get from research along with their instincts to form a strategic true north that influences all of our work. We’ll go to our client and say, “Here’s the true north, this is the strategic platform that led to it, and we want to make sure you’re on board before we move forward.” That way we all start out on the same foundation, and all of the work we do reaches back to that true north.
We also have a formal review policy with our clients. We’ll do a post mortem with every single project where we’ll get in the room with a whiteboard and go all the way back to the beginning with the RFP process and talk about what we did well, where we could have done better, and what the successes were.
Where is Omelet investing when it comes to innovation?
Mark: Most of our investment at the end of the day is in people. We’re looking for people who make that bridge from a strategic standpoint, people who can innovate towards that true north and come up with a way to solve a problem for our clients that other groups have not. We have people at Omelet who have roles in strategy and analytics and that’s probably unusual for an agency of our size; a lot of other companies would farm that out. For us, that’s part of our value proposition.
From a technology standpoint, we believe that a lot of agencies that are technology-specific start to make investments into proprietary software and feel that they have to start to sell that technology in to their clients. We instead go out to our insanely deep bench of talent from around the world to do that great technical work for us. We figure out what the problem is for our client and we go get the right technology to support it.
In the last couple of years, we’ve developed a few new divisions which have been highly successful. One is Omelet To Go, which is the experiential marketing group. We feel very strongly that as people are becoming more proactive in trying to eliminate traditional advertising from their lives, face-to-face conversations are becoming increasingly more valuable. We launched Omelet Studio, which creates intellectual property from a content and a branded entertainment standpoint. We have a group called The Roost, which is an independent consultant and advisory unit that thrives on data. Omelet Brands is also pretty exciting for us. We’re actually investing in companies out there that are selling products, and we’re taking ownership in their success.
What kinds of opportunities do people at Omelet get to hone their skills?
Mark: One of the things that we started this year which has been really successful for us is something we call 60/60. Two days a week we have 60 minutes set aside during which employees can’t set up meetings or client phone calls. That’s a time where we allow people to do work on passion projects or use online resources to learn and grow. We have great tools for people to learn new software. For example, if you’re an analyst who loves what the art directors do and you want to get better at Photoshop, we have online courses for you to take. Investing in people’s passions keeps them excited about coming here every day.
What advice do you have for other middle market executives who are looking to grow their business?
Mark: Define your culture and have a true understanding of what culture really means. A lot of people think that culture is just whether or not people have fun playing cornhole at the company picnic, and they don’t realize that true company culture is how people treat each other, whether or not they respect each other, and how they communicate to each other. At the end of the day, you can trace that back to the quality of the product that you ultimately deliver to your clients.
For us, we hire for culture first and resume second. We had a writer in our creative department who was a part-time cake decorator and a struggling stand-up comedian before he joined Omelet. He ended up being one of our most valuable employees. We don’t only look at other advertising agencies to find people; we really open it up and look at anybody. Someone can have the most impressive resume that you’ve ever seen, but they have to be the right cultural fit.
What are some of the advantages of working for a middle market business?
Mark: A lot of big agencies have programs where you go to work for their company and you spend anywhere between three and six months in a division. You rotate through multiple divisions so that you get an idea of what the company is like and what everyone does. A middle market company has that inherently built in. At a company like Omelet, you get to do a little bit of everything. Clearly you’ll have a specific role but you’ll get to interact with the creative and strategy department and get face time with the clients. It really is an opportunity to try your hand at every part of the industry.
What’s next for Omelet? What are you most excited about?
Mark: I think what’s exciting for me is our Omelet Brands division. It’s really exciting to think about taking all the brilliant marketers in this building and putting their efforts into something that we own a piece of. We started the division a year and a half ago and actually just launched our first product a few days ago - Betsy’s Best. It’s a premium nut butter company making almond butter and a lot of other cool stuff. It’ll be at Whole Foods and it’s already available for sale online.
It’s really great to walk into a store, pick up a product, put it into your hands, and say ‘Wow. Omelet owns a part of that.’ It’s been a great tool for us to attract talent. People are really excited to come to Omelet versus other advertising agencies because they want to work on something where they have a sense of ownership.
For more information about Omelet, visit omeletla.com