This article was originally published by MediaPost.

While it’s not uncommon for MediaPost to recognize the same organizations years in a row as our media agencies of the year, our selection of Omnicom as this year’s holding company of the year is the first time we’ve done so two years in a row for the same reason. Sort of.

Last year we picked Omnicom for the development of its Omni platform — a data and information technology hub centralizing all of the best insights and intelligence available to Omnicom and putting it in the hands of its global workforce at the push of a button, including strategic planners in search of a meaningful insight, or a creative stuck on deadline looking for the next Big Idea.

When Omnicom pulled that off, something seemed to be missing: an integration with one of its own best insights engines: culture agency and management consultant Sparks & Honey, which has built one of the best organizations and methods for scraping emerging themes in culture and figuring out how to apply them to solve clients’ marketing problems, and more importantly, to “future-proof” their businesses.

That last part has become especially important in a world of rapid-fire innovation and the no barriers to entry from upstart brands — especially the kind of direct-to-consumer brands that have proven so disruptive to established ones.

A year ago, Omnicom Digital CEO Jonathan Nelson acknowledged it was an important missing link for Omni, but promised it would eventually become integrated into Omni. A year later, thanks to the development of some sophisticated AI-based technology, Omnicom has finally integrated Sparks & Honey into Omni.

Known as the Q platform, the system is actually a combination of human and AI-powered intelligence that incorporates the best of the agency’s team of culture analysts and combines it with the real-time search and data processing power of Q to augment the agency’s culture riffs on-the-fly.

MediaPost got a first-hand look at how the system works during one of Sparks & Honey’s recent culture briefings — a daily session in which the agency’s analysts mix it up with advisory board experts and special guests — to examine the next new cultural trends that could impact the world, especially the world of brand marketers.

Occasionally, the briefings are organized around special themes, such as a two-day series on how a potential economic recession might impact brand marketing, and another on how the emergence of so-called precision consumer data could change everything we know about marketing.

To help MediaPost experience the process, Sparks & Honey arranged to have part of a briefing organized around a theme we plan to cover over the next year: the role of ethics in the advertising industry.

The session was intended to create a baseline for understanding how ad industry ethics currently is perceived in culture so we could identify areas to probe and research later.

The session worked much like other Sparks & Honey briefings. The agency’s Director of Cultural Systems, Merlin U. Ward, served as a moderator and facilitator, taking cues from the Q platform’s AI-powered prompts and then engaging industry experts to weigh in on the meaning of the trends it identified.

The combination of Sparks & Honey’s human and AI-empowered intelligence, coupled with a rigorous methodology based on typing core elements and foundations of culture, is truly unique within the ad industry and has yielded the agency a roster of clients that ranges from the most common consumer goods marketers to DARPA, the United Stations and the World Economic Forum.

By integrating it into Omni’s interface, Omnicom has effectively taken it from Omni 1.0 to Omni 2.0, making it our holding company of the year for 2019, because sometimes innovation isn’t a one-and-done deal, but an ongoing progression.

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