Razorfish Global Bets Big On Media And Commerce Combo

scott sorokin razorfishRazorfish Global is updating its media strategy. Or, more specifically, it’s complementing its expertise in customer experience design and commerce with media.

“Historically, the organization has gone after standalone media RFPs,” said Razorfish Global Chief Strategy Officer Scott Sorokin. “We can’t win against a media company. We have to pivot around technology and experiences – and the most obvious is commerce and media. That’s open because nobody is doing it very well.”

Razorfish Global is part of Publicis.Sapient, the digital unit French holding company Publicis Groupe assembled after its $3.7 billion cash acquisition of Sapient. Besides Razorfish Global, Publicis.Sapient also houses DigitasLBi and SapientNitro. And the nesting dolls go even deeper, as Razorfish Global comprises four agencies: Razorfish, Rosetta, the boutique agency Level and ROAR (JPMorgan Chase’s boutique agency).

While Razorfish Global isn’t nominally a media agency – at least, not compared to Publicis’ heavy hitters like Starcom Mediavest Group (SMG) and ZenithOptimedia – it has had a persistent media-buying practice. But Sorokin – a media vet who’s worked at Carat and who built Unilever’s and Kimberly-Clark’s respective private trading desks at GroupM – said the pure-play media agencies have less clout in an omnichannel world where advertising, marketing and commerce need to be intertwined.

“Driving traffic to my store or retail environment, I need to know who’s coming, how they’ve come, why they’re coming, so I can make those experiences better and smarter,” he told AdExchanger at the Adobe Summit in Salt Lake City.

The problem is that most site owners don’t own that incoming traffic.

“It’s owned by a media company,” Sorokin said. “It’s some low-end [associate media director] buying $50 million of media or less to drive traffic to a website or commerce platform.”

On the flip side, Sorokin claimed the major ecommerce agencies and consultancies have “relatively no media capabilities.”

As Razorfish sees it, this disconnect between media and ecommerce makes it difficult for brands to fully understand customer journeys. A media agency might pump loads of traffic to a website or online store, but if those prospects don’t behave as expected – perhaps no one buys anything – it’s difficult to troubleshoot. Was there a problem with the website’s interface, for instance, or was the online traffic full of bad prospects?

“The increase in traffic and basket size is a complex thing,” Sorokin said. “Why people click through, why they buy, is all based on data and customer intelligence. A media company’s answer will be more eyeballs, more traffic.”

It’s for this reason Razorfish Global doesn’t want to be a pure-play media shop any more than it wants to be a pure-play ecommerce shop or pure-play creative shop. It hopes to position itself as all three within a single agency.

Sorokin intends to add media experts to work with Razorfish Global’s commerce teams. This agenda will require some interdisciplinary education – commerce teams will need to better understand media, and vice versa.

There’s some irony here, since many media agencies spun off from creative agencies. But because consumers now move fluidly from channel to channel, thanks in large part to the advent of mobile, Sorokin said a rebundling is necessary.

“When you look at where SMG and Zenith fit, they are the traditional, unbundled agencies,” he said. “Within the Razorfish world, unbundling doesn’t make any sense any more.”

Media agencies excel at generating efficiencies by purchasing and targeting inventory in bulk. This is an antiquated model for digital advertising, Sorokin argues – a holdover from the days of TV buying when agencies could broker for brand exclusivity on broadcast networks.

“I owned blocks of time,” Sorokin said. “I owned a TV show. Tell me where that makes sense in the digital world? Everything is auction-based.”

Certainly Razorfish Global’s vision is in line with a running ambition at the Adobe Summit – one in which data and analytics that used to be in marketing’s purview extends to advertising, the customer experience and possibly beyond.

But can Razorfish Global execute? It’ll certainly need clients to buy into this vision, and it’s not easy to convince clients to invest in upheaval. And even though an RFP’s purview often expands, it rarely reaches far enough to touch media. “It’s such a far off distant land,” Sorokin said.

A few have bought in, however. Razorfish Global works with Samsung – but it operates in partnership with SMG, which handles the tech giant’s media.

Obviously when we’re with our sister agencies, we’ll partner with them,” Sorokin said. “But we want to pull away from other media companies. Our goal is to do Razorfish Media and Razorfish Commerce.”

By Sorokin’s count, this strategy is barely two months old. But until now, media at Razorfish Global had been “underserved and underdeveloped,” despite having a management team – like CTO Ray Velez, who helped build the Atlas ad server, now famously owned by Facebook – with a deep media background.

“[Razorfish] sort of walked away from [media] over the last five or six years,” Sorokin said. “We’re just resetting the company’s strategic focus. This will be the center of what we do. We are driving that forward and I’m going to make sure all of our resources around media and commerce come together.”

Edit 3/12: A Razorfish Global spokesperson disputes the characterization in the last two paragraphs that Razorfish walked away from media, saying the agency had in fact spent the last couple of years investing in and retooling its media strategy.

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