Omnicom has invested more than US$2 million to launch the media-buying agency Optimum Media Direction Asia (OMD). The independent operation involves the merger of the media departments of advertising agencies DDB, BBDO and TBWA, in a move that is expected to challenge rival media firms Zenith Media (jointly-owned by Cordiant Communications Group and Saatchi & Saatchi) and Mindshare (Oglivy & Mather and J Walter Thompson). OMD Worldwide president Daryl Simm said the agency was launched in Europe three years ago and had billings last year of US$5.8 billion. He said OMD Asia had billings worth HK$1.5 billion last year, and was forecasting about 20 per cent growth in the region this year. It has such clients as Johnson & Johnson, Fuji, Mobil, Chase, Nissan, the Wharf Group, Sunday and the Hong Kong Tourist Association. Mr Simm said there was a need for specialist media-buying agencies as the media had become more sophisticated and difficult, and needed more attention than a full-service advertising agency could provide. 'Media specialists are about building profit and business, specifically in media. The only way to do that is through providing better [research] tools, services and performance to give clients greater accountability for their media investment, unlike ad agencies whose core business is broader,' Mr Simm said. OMD Asia chief executive Mike Cooper said the agency's headquarters would be in Hong Kong and would employ 70 people. Maggie Choi had been named managing director for Hong Kong and China, and Tim Foley regional research director. Mr Cooper said the company would open offices in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing and Taiwan this year, and in every city in which its agencies were active before 2000. 'What sets us apart [from other agencies] is the amount of resources we are bringing in,' Mr Cooper said. Mr Simm said OMD had the participation of all three ad agencies. It aimed to win direct clients, in addition to those the agencies brought in.