In a chat with Daniel Bonner, global chief creative officer, SapientRazorfish, on the sidelines of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, he revealed that the Indian operations of the agency are going 'super strong' with around 7,000 professionals employed in the country. He also spoke about how the agency is embracing technology into creativity, the merger with Sapient, talent related challenges and more. Edited excerpts:
How has the digital advertising landscape changed since you took over as CCO in 2012?
Firstly, the company has evolved since the Sapient marriage. The new big union has been pretty seamless. That was bound to happen since there are more similar things about our organisation than different.
One thing that was different was the size. But, a lot of the services offered to the clients overlapped and which is why it was almost like an obvious union in some ways. The deeper technology, scale and consulting opportunities that came with Sapient were different compared to us.
But both the companies have been around for over two decades. Both were born in the digital era of sorts. So, that was the big change for us over the past 12 months.
In terms of the industry, if you look at the festival and think of what people have been talking about of late, its artificial intelligence. That’s what is on people’s hearts, minds and lips.
It’s about automation, algorithms. It’s about augmenting creativity with these tools. There’s buzz about whether software and robots are going to take over our jobs or not. Is creativity an entirely human endeavor? We feel very passionately about that.
In your opinion how can technology impact creativity?
It has impacted the media landscape a while ago now. With the birth of the internet came the information age. With the rise of IOT (Internet of Things) and being plugged into more than just a screen or device came the connected age. I think where we are heading now is the intelligent age – technology will become smart or smarter. With it come opportunities that didn’t exist earlier.
Our view on it is that it’s not that a computer will take away the job from a creative, but someone who can operate a computer better will. That’s with computer being a broad term for technology.
It’s fundamentally something that we need to embrace.
Earlier, we were making things with dumb tools. Things that made what we told them to. Now, what’s interesting is that the tool itself has the ability to learn and give the creative human in charge the ability to innovate. So, it’s the human and tool going together to places that either on their own couldn’t.
Is one bigger than the other?
Right now the human is obviously bigger. If you judge it by speed or efficiency maybe you can get 100 answers quicker with both working in unison. You can investigate options now which you couldn’t earlier.
I think the idea is the connection point. One needs to use technology to help get you where you need to get to. We at Sapient.Razorfish call ourselves customer centric and start at what the consumer would need. It is then about what the person next to that first consumer wants and what the person next to them wants. We can target individuals now, so it’s important to know them perfectly.
Where does the agency’s Indian office rank globally?
SapientRazorfish has 7,000 people employed in India. Globally, we have around 12,000 people so the bulk of our employees are from India. A lot of them are engineers and technologists.
That scale is massive and is a big advantage over our competitors. The Indian office is growing.
There’s a misconception of the country being a scale place doing low level production work which is cheaper than doing it in New York and London. But we’ve got a forward thinking Innovation lab in India. For us to invest in that shows that there’s talent there (in India). It’s a global market for us.
Which would be the top five markets for us right now in terms of creative power?
I don’t have actual figures but North America where we have a total of 26 offices has to be among the top five. China has got to be up there too. Then there’s Singapore and Australia that would be up there too apart from India.
What are the challenges you’re facing right now?
Talent for sure. A lot of people now are deciding whether they want to be working in advertising, in-house, technology platform or elsewhere. A lot of options have come up.
We aren’t competing only with agencies from within our industry. It’s about whether people see themselves working for our industry or do they see themselves working in a tech-led company like Google.
Ten years ago, a creative working with a client was not thought off. They’d want to be working alongside other creatives in an environment which is more creative.
We have to offer different opportunities. But, people are at different life-stages. We have to forget about ourselves for a minute and let people head out of the industry. They can always come back and that would be better as they are returning with richer experience.
But are people coming back to the agency side after working with the client?
I would say that the clients can’t match what an agency pays so that can happen. They would probably pay less than an agency would pay in a lot of cases.
People are looking to start things of their own though and their jobs whether it is with the agency or client is just to fund that. So, people are again in a different mindset and the idea of a career in advertising or marketing for 25 years is almost like ‘why would I do that’. People learn in our industry and get move out to do their own stuff.
So it’s more about retention than attraction.
What are the other challenges?
We are engaging with clients in a different way now. It’s not about always channeling our meetings through the marketing department or the CMO. We are now interacting with their CIO, CEO or CTO. And that kind of changes the approach. We’re seeing that shift. So the team that has been talking to a marketing team now talking to other departments and so we need to meet them with a different approach. We are seeing a more pragmatic, business led approach. It’s more of a change than a challenge.