Sapient Razorfish lays off half its Hong Kong workforce following global consolidation

Publicis Groupe’s digital transformation network SapientRazorfish has let go half of its workforce in Hong Kong following a global consolidation exercise.

The agency – which formed from a merger between SapientNitro and Razorfish in 2016 – has laid off eight people from its 15-person team in Hong Kong following discussions at a global level.

The agency’s holding body Publicis.Sapient recently lost its global co-CEO and longtime executive Chip Register, leaving co-lead Alan Wexler with the task of “streamlining” the company’s digital division.

SapientRazorfish Hong Kong is now being led by James Chiu, the agency’s Greater China head of experience design, who is said to split his time between Shanghai and the city state.

James Chiu: SapientRazorfish’s experience design head, who now leads the agency in China

Chiu recently took over the leadership role from Joanna Kalenska, who was the Hong Kong general manager and then managing director of Razorfish – and subsequently SapientRazorfish – from 2013 until the end of last year. She has since joined HSBC as head of marketing for international markets.

After the merger, Razorfish also said goodbye to its APAC chairman Vincent Digonnet, who was moved to a global role in London before leaving Publicis altogether to become APAC CEO for MullenLowe Group. 

Seven people holding the roles of project manager, experience designers and account executives now remain at what’s left of the Hong Kong office. In a conversation with Mumbrella, Chiu refused to divulge the finer details of the layoffs, other than to say they came from a “consolidation” and “strategic realignment” of the agency’s global offering.

He added in an emailed statement: “We have made changes to the team – our service focus has changed to align with our global strategy, to be a transformation partner for our clients. At SapientRazorfish, we help companies reimagine how they organise, connect, and thrive by transforming into radically customer-centric organisations.”

Chiu denied the agency was closing down its base in Hong Kong altogether, adding that it still serviced five clients – including mobile phone giant Huawei. He was unwilling to disclose further details of the remaining four.

The Sapient division has been problematic for Publicis Groupe for some time. Having bought SapientNitro in 2015, the holding company then merged the digital specialist with Razorfish in the hope of pivoting towards “experience-driven design work and digital transformation” with less focus in the “marketing narrative space”. 

Initially, the newly-created Publicis.Sapient offering consisted of digital creative agency Digitas LBi. However, this has since been relocated to Publicis Media globally and Publicis Communications in APAC. In addition, following the acquisition of SapientNitro, the group was faced with a  €1.4b write-down and was forced to admit there were “serious issues” within the division.


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