Does SapientRazorfish herald the eclipse of Publicis brands?

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"Clients increasingly care less about the brand," says Bill Kanarick, chief strategy officer for Publicis.Sapient.

Employees of SapientNitro and Razorfish found out Thursday afternoon that the two agencies are merging. Beginning Jan. 2 of 2017, they will be working under the unabashed portmanteau SapientRazorfish.

Reorg shakeups are becoming commonplace as the agencies' holding company Publicis pursues its Power of One strategy, allowing clients access to resources at multiple agencies at the same time. While this merger technically preserves both parent brands, it will do little to calm employees at other Publicis agencies who may be nervous about the longevity of their own shops.

Bill Kanarick, chief strategy officer for Publicis.Sapient, suggested that the future is not focused on agency brands. "Clients increasingly care less about the brand," he told Campaign US. "This is very much at the heart of what has been a big shift for us as Publicis Groupe, to this notion of the Power of One. Clients care about getting the right capability, the right set of people assembled against their challenges in the right way, and care less about the source of those people in terms of what brand they do or don't come from."

"It's hard to predict as we sit here what brands will or won't be in the mix a few years from now, but I think it's pretty easy to predict that a brand-first approach to the kinds of opportunities we're seeing is less important to our clients."

Just a few months ago, Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis Communications, said unequivocally that he would be preserving agencies. "The creative brands are my first assets. There will be no brand disappearing. I want my brands to be strong. I am not going to reduce the number," he said. But that statement could be interpreted to only apply to Sadoun's hub and not others (like Publicis.Sapient). The tea leaves are still difficult to read—holding company assurances notwithstanding.

But there may be some good news for the 12,000 people currently employed by SapientNitro and Razorfish. While most mergers are quickly followed by pink slips for redundant workers, Publicis is downplaying concerns. "As we sit here today, we don't anticipate any layoffs," Kanarick said to Campaign US.

"I think there will be no shortage of things for all the incredibly talented people at SapientRazorfish to do," he added. "Frankly, we would hope that a month, three months, six months, twelve months from now, we continue to need more people to do it. We believe we're steering into a pretty robust market opportunity. This is really more about a strategic move than anything else."

So far, that policy is playing out among the agencies' leadership, despite some shuffling. SapientNitro's CEO Alan Wexler retains his title in the new organization, while Razorfish's CEO Shannon Denton becomes CSO, as well as head of global practices at Publicis.Sapient.

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