Questions for Razorfish CEO Bob Lord

  |  August 11, 2009   |  Comments

He says Razorfish will not spend more with Microsoft after its sale to Publicis. The deal reportedly came with $2B in commitments.

Bob.Lord2.jpg After Publicis buys Razorfish, the global interactive agency will reside within the holding company's Vivaki division. When that happens, Bob Lord will report to David Kenny, once the CEO of Razorfish rival Digitas and now Vivaki's managing partner.

In a conversation with ClickZ yesterday, Lord praised the "nice, genuine people" at Vivaki. And he implied he'd supported a Publicis sale, in part because of the cultural fit he saw with the Kenny crew. Lord also addressed the controversial media buying pact between Microsoft and Publicis -- to an extent disowning it. He insisted Razorfish will not change its optimization-driven buying practices - - a statement that raises the question of who exactly will spend the reported $2 billion in Microsoft media Publicis has promised it will scoop up over the next five years.

On the upside, Lord said it will gain access to Publicis's above-the-line services, as well as to global offices where Razorfish has gaps -- such as in India and in South America. "It's great to be in 25 countries, but for clients that want us to be in 35, Publicis will help us do that faster," he said.


Q. Now that this deal has been inked, can you say frankly to what degree Razorfish has struggled to convince clients it's really unbiased when selling Microsoft properties?

A. We had the same issue when we were just part of aQuantive. Way back when we were an agency we put in an audit performance process. We carried that over to Microsoft. That same process will be put in place when we go to Publicis.

Q. Was the restructuring you undertook last spring in preparation for the sale of Razorfish?

A. No. This came about pretty quickly. Ever since we were bought, you know the question has been out there. Every year, when the ad conference happens at Cannes, it's been revisited.

[Microsoft CFO] Chris Liddell said, "I want you to explore and see if there is a fit with any of these entities." I started to have conversations with people. Nothing was formalized. Honestly, not until three or three-and-a-half weeks ago did it get really serious. Only then did Microsoft say, "let's have management presentations."

To Chris Lidell's credit, it happened pretty quickly once they said let's go full-bore on this. It was painful. It was a lot of work to get there. But we got to a pretty good place, especially from a strategy standpoint.

Q. Could you explain the strategy bit a little more?

A. Our mission is to become the new kind of agency that helps clients transform their businesses for digital. That implies we sit somewhere between a traditional agency and a business consulting firm.

When you look at the Vivaki organization and what [Managing Partner] David Kenny has created, philosophically we line up really well with them. The other important aspect from my standpoint was a cultural fit. These are nice, genuine people, and they lead by thinking about the client first.

I was pretty vocal as we went through the process with the Microsoft folks.

Q. Razorfish joins a much larger family of agencies in the Vivaki unit. Do you think Vivaki has a recognition factor with advertisers?

A. It's more important that the clients know Starcom MediaVest, Digitas and Razorfish. Vivaki is more important for the buying power it brings. That recognition is more for the publishers.

Q. The money that Publicis pledged to spend with Microsoft -- how much of that will be spent by Razorfish and how much by other agency units?

A. That's a question for Publicis. From a Razorfish perspective, we're going to approach the market as we always have. Which is to say, as different properties start to perform, you refine your spend on a week to week basis or sometimes on a daily basis. I was not privy to the agreement Publicis had.

Q. Yet won't it be [Razorfish Media SVP] Sarah Baehr's team putting that agreement into action?

A. Yeah, but we're not going to take on a different philosophy as a result of the agreement. We're going to buy like we normally will. That's part of our strength.

My confidence, based on the buying power Publicis has, is that we'd have spent the same amount anyway.

Q. In that case, why wouldn't Microsoft have gone with the purportedly higher offer from Dentsu?

A. Now you're asking me to speculate on your speculation.

Q. Fair enough. Will any units of Razorfish be integrated with other Publicis companies -- the way Modem was broken off from Digitas?

A. The intent is to keep Razorfish as a standalone entity within the offices they're in now. Logically, if a lease is up and we can collocate with ZenithOptimedia, it'll [probably happen]. But it's important that we maintain Razorfish as a global brand.

Q. Any talk about integrating a traditional capability permanently within Razorfish?

A. You go thru this analysis once a year, and you look at build/buy versus partner. When you look at other agencies, we've always gone the partner route versus actually building or buying. Other than in the eCRM area, we haven't thought about buying anyone on the traditional side. You're talking about TV right, or print?

Q. Anything above the line.

A. We've considered buying content production homes. I don't want to call them video production, because they're different. It's about creating content. Content for Twitter, content for Facebook. Your brand has to be in so many places, it's not just about a commercial.

Q. Silly question, but I have to ask about the use of Macs. Will more Razorfish people be using them after the deal goes through?

A. That is a silly question. Hey, I wouldn't walk onto Microsoft campus in front of Steve Ballmer with a Mac. Actually I use a Dell. But we've never had a mandate from Microsoft not to use equipment we need to use. You could take that down to Flash versus Silverlight... Apple is more tangible symbolically.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zachary Rodgers

Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects. 

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