I’ve never met Sapient‘s Worldwide Chief Creative Officer Gaston Legorburu, but if I wanted to connect with him this week, my best bet would be to hang around bars in Cannes after midnight.
That’s where the real business of the big annual advertising lollapalooza gets done, and Legorburu has a serious “to-do” list that he’ll be ticking through as he works the crowd. “You’d be amazed at the amount of work that gets done at the Gutter Bar at 3 a.m,” he told us, hours before boarding a flight in Miami for the Cannes Advertising Festival. “In one square block area, all the players in advertising assemble, deals are struck, and you find out the gossip on who’s moving to what agency.”
Best of all, he says, lots of clients go there. “They tend to be big package goods advertisers, beer brands, etc., who are often behind the curve when it comes to digital. We see that as a huge opportunity.”
Boston-based Sapient is going to the festival this year with an added ace up its sleeve. Last week it concluded a $50M agreement with Shanghai-based Nitro Group, which counts Mars, Nike, Con Agra, Volvo and Foot Locker among its clients, in an exotic deal: one of the rare occasions when a digital agency purchases a traditional shop.
With the added creative spark of the new team, Legorburu–who built his previous agency, Planning Group International, into the largest privately held interactive agency in the U.S. before selling out to Sapient in 2006–bets he has a strong tale to tell over the Kronenbourg 1664s. Plus, Sapient itself is entering digitial work on Coke’s “Open Happiness” campaign.
For the past few years, Sapient, better known for its strategic interactive work than its creative chops,has attended the festival, but mostly in the role of spectators. Still, they had a dream: what if marketing and advertising could be driven by consumer behavior, and not just by 30-second commercials? What if they could design a two-stage rocket: build a giant digital agency, then pair it with a creative powerhouse–all under one roof, with one P&L?
“We thought we might be able to sell the idea of a think tank–where 10 people work on your business, but all working together,” Legoburu says. “It would be better than a collection of agencies, like in the holding company model, that we could deploy on clients’ behalf.”
So this year, with the freshly-consummated Nitro deal in their back pocket, they were eager to storm the beaches with the news. Then came the downturn, and everybody started wavering on travel plans. “We were worried that nobody would show up!” Legorburu says.
It didn’t help that a week before the festival’s launch, Ad Age’s Bob Garfield wrote a sour grapes story about Cannes’s irrelevance, provoking a spirited rebuttal from BBDO creative chief David Lubars.
But by the end of the week, agency types, more fearful of being left out than of submitting T&Es for Cannes, donned their game faces and began booking flights. Some are bunking at the Best Western instead of the Carlton, or staying three days instead of five, but most are calculating that, when the chips are down, it’s better to act now and apologize later.
“Cannes represents a lot of what’s wrong with Madison Avenue,” Legoburu says, “but it’s important in terms of building a reputation and in getting attention for recruitment.” For Legorburu and his buds, the game plan is clear: get out the news that Sapient means to be a major player in the creative realm, and not just a big, work-a-day interactive shop; remind prospective clients that the agency now has a mighty global footprint, from Shanghai to Miami; and lure some of that restless, disgruntled talent from competitors.
Anybody seeking to make contact, knows where to find him: “We will have 3 a.m. bar-rotating schedule,” he says. “Look for the Sapient guys.”
Legorburu will be following the awards for Fast Company this week, focusing on the evolution of digital advertising and design. And, of course, covering the party beat.
(Full disclosure: a member of my family works for a separate division of Sapient.)
Here are some of Sapient’s and Nitro’s recent projects:
Sapient designed the Happiness Factory sites for Coke.
Sapient also designed Coke’s interactive work for Samsung’s slick new touchscreen vending machine, which was the hit of CES in January.
Here is ad that Nitro Group created for the The Best Job in the World: being caretaker for an island in Queensland, Australia.
Nitro just launched a campaign for Healthy Choice featuring Julia Louis Dreyfus.
And lastly, Sapient launched a series of entertaining behind the scenes shows for Celebrity Cruise lines. This one featurs a ramped-up, manic trip through the Panama Canal — with only two feet to spare on each side of the ship.