Opinion

Razorfish APAC chairman Vincent Digonnet on his new global role, 20 years in Asia, and why ad agencies are still failing at digital

Vincent DigonnetVincent Digonnet, the Asia Pacific executive chairman of digital agency Razorfish, has just moved into a new global role as chief growth and transformation officer.

In this interview with Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks, Digonnet talks about his task ahead, his best memories of working in Asia for 20 years, and what traditional agencies are still getting wrong in digital.

Monsieur Digonnet, you appear to have a very tough brief in your new role – to replicate the growth Razorfish has seen in Asia in markets elsewhere, such as Europe. How is that even realistic?

Asia is home to the world’s fastest economies in the world. No one can replicate the speed of growth in Asia. I’m not Superman!

But my role is not just about growth. It’s about business transformation. In many cases potential growth is there, but it’s hiding. In Asia, the traditional advertising business is not growing. The volume of digital campaigns in China is actually decreasing. Growth is coming from new sectors, and my role is about tapping into that.

Growth in Europe and other markets will come from transformation of operations, more systems integration and e-commerce platforms as a bedrock for business growth – not advertising. But a lot of people are asking the wrong question. They come to you and say, I haven’t got the right digital strategy, what do I do? I tell them that this is not the right question. They need to be asking, what is the right business strategy for the digital age?

Years ago, we had creatives, producers and account managers. Now we need an understanding of technology and a range of many fields that are needed to transform a business. But you can’t be a jack of all trades. My estimation is that I’d need 350 people for each discipline needed to transform a company. But very few places have this number of people filling all areas of expertise.

So we need to look at the world differently. Agencies need to be centres of excellence that work together collaboratively, and across borders. China is a centre of e-commerce, Hong Kong for business consultancy and analytics, Australia for ad tech. No one can be everything. And the future will be won by those who can leverage opportunities beyond their own area of expertise.

You’re leaving Asia later in the year to relocate to London. What have been your best memories of the region?

Two things. At both Euro RSCG [now Havas Worldwide, where Digonnet was APAC CEO for seven and half years] and Razorfish, I built networks out of collection of loose held-together acquisitions. I was lucky to be in Asia at a time when the digital world was born. I’ve seen in that time Asia move from being a developing region to a leading region that will be the centre of the economic world.

If you look at the job I’m taking now, five or six years ago it wouldn’t have been possible, because Asia was not seen at the leading edge and I might not have got it. But now, if you look at a market like China [where Digonnet is currently based], it is the foremost place in the world for building brands on e-commerce platforms.

You’ve worked at Euro RSCG, a more traditional agency, and Razorfish, a digital agency. What do you see as the things that traditional agencies are getting right and wrong in digital?

It’s easier to talk about what they’re getting getting wrong. The biggest issue is that they’re replicating the offline model of delivering communications and advertising on the internet. They’ve missed the point of what digital brings in terms of business transformation. They are still fundamentally in the business of advertising. So digital becomes a tail-in.

I know that, because when I was at Euro RSCG, we tried to transform the business, but this is difficult when 80 per cent of it is still traditional. Real transformation comes from the outside. If you look at campaign development, there’s less and less money to do that. If you look at traditional creative people who are producing creative content, it’s very expensive and takes too long to deliver. The sort of content clients now want has to be constantly changed and updated. But for most creatives in traditional agencies this is alien, and they push back against it. They’re not good at producing the sort of content that’s needed around e-commerce, for example. It’s a publisher’s game now, and ad agencies need to move into content creation at a very different level. They need to be hiring people such as journalists and photographers with less of an ego, who are more collaborative. The problem is still essentially about ad agencies trying to shoehorn digital into a traditional model.

So what’s you plan for the first 12 months of your new role?

Transformation in Europe. In Asia, our operations have been set on the right course for the last four years, and therefore it’s more about accelerating that and keep it going. We need to challenge the technology we’ve bringing because the market is changing constantly. And how do we manage scale and agility at the same time? That’s another real challenge for us.

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