DigitasLBi’s New Global Prez Wants To Bring The Focus Back To Data

nigelvazDigitasLBi had started to grow beyond its core purpose: to be the data and insights shop within the Publicis.Sapient family.

When global CEO Luke Taylor stepped down two weeks ago, Nigel Vaz, CEO of Publicis.Sapient in AMEA and APAC, also became global President of DigitasLBi. As president, Vaz will have oversight of DigitasLBi’s brand strategy and positioning, but not a P&L. Rather, the agency will operate on regional P&Ls.

As president, Vaz will streamline the agency’s focus on its core capability.

“Digitas has always been around leveraging data to help transform marketing to be smarter for our clients,” Vaz told AdExchanger. “That’s got to be where we operate.”

In his dual role as regional CEO of Publicis.Sapient and global president of DigitasLBi, Vaz must further integrate Publicis’ digital assets to deliver across a holistic consumer journey.

But Publicis has been experiencing growing pains. On a Q4 earnings call last week, the group wrote down Publicis.Sapient by $1.5 billion.

Vaz spoke with AdExchanger, but declined comment on the write-down.

AdExchanger: How did Digitas get off course from its core expertise in helping clients derive insights from data?

NIGEL VAZ: Most organizations can do many things. Strategy and focus is not about not doing the things you can do, but doing the things you should do or were born to do.

What kinds of things will DigitasLBi focus on going forward?

When you have so many different inputs in terms of media, interaction on owned properties like websites and mobile apps and interactions with partners in your ecosystem, how do you orchestrate a frictionless interaction with a customer? Through data and more targeted communications, which has an operational benefit in the context of media spend, but also creates a richer interaction.

Why did Luke Taylor step down? Did it have to do with ongoing organizational changes at Publicis Groupe? 

Luke has been with the business for a long time. He was one of the founders of an agency that became part of LBi almost 22 years ago. He’s a phenomenal guy and somebody we wish well, but he hasn’t had a break in 22 years. It might be as much his own personal ambitions going forward as anything to do with Publicis.

What do you make of other leadership exits at Publicis Groupe? 

Publicis is going through a tremendous period of transformation trying to move the business from simply being about communications to helping companies transform their businesses. To that extent, we’re going through our own transformation. In transforming yourself, people are going to change roles and move around, but from my perspective, that’s the norm.

How does DigitasLBi fit within the Publicis.Sapient family?

SapientRazorfish, Sapient Consulting and DigitasLBi exist on a continuum. SapientRazorfish is all about building products and services to define the brand as the experience. Sapient Consulting has deep expertise in consulting, technology and industry expertise.

I think of this a major and minor concept. SapientRazorfish majors in how we transform businesses leveraging experiences and building digital products and services. They minor in digital communications and marketing. Digitas majors around deriving insights from data and orchestrating that data along the customer journey. I don’t think we or anybody is executing those two propositions perfectly anywhere.

With you leading both teams, will Digitas have more access to expertise across Publicis.Sapient? How will that further break down silos across the group?  

The intent is not to consolidate brands or people. It’s to connect capabilities that sit on a continuum of transforming marketing around data, building digital products and services and leveraging consulting and technology expertise.

We are connecting those capabilities in service of our clients more not just within Publicis.Sapient, but also within Publicis Groupe. A big part of this is creating the freedom for our people to do what makes sense for clients. The transformation that Maurice has led over the past few years, including the acquisition of Sapient, has created a culture that puts clients as the primary focus instead of internal P&Ls and organizational structures that get in the way.

We’re trying to enable that stuff to happen innately. [People] don’t care that someone sitting next to them is from a different hub or brand. For too long in the industry we haven’t done enough to create an environment where people are able to operate in this way.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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