Questions for Denuo President Nick Pahade

When Publicis Groupe recently launched Denuo, its much-anticipated “futures practice,” president Nick Pahade told ClickZ the firm would not simply be a better media agency.

“We want to get back into the business of being paid for idea generation,” he said. “We’re not looking to be executing campaigns and be the AOR [agency of record] of the large brand. We’re really more of a plug-and-play model.”

Pahade, previously managing director of WPP’s Beyond Interactive, is the only Denuo founding member to join from outside the Publicis fold. Others include Dan Buczaczer of word-of-mouth shop Reverb; Scott Witt of MediaVest; Tim Harris and PJ MacGregor of gaming unit Play; former Millward Brown director Christian Kugel; and Tim Hanlon, who started Starcom’s TV 2.0.

ClickZ caught up with Pahade this week to ask about Denuo’s plans and find out what it’s like coordinating such a bunch of rock stars.

Q. Such an all-star team has never been assembled in the digital space. Is there a conceivable downside to that?

A. It’s always a challenge when you’re trying to create a team with chemistry when everybody on the team is smarter than you. It’s really been inspiring for me. That was one of the things that really attracted me to the opportunity. These people are really unbelievable. Every day as we meet I learn new things about the space.

Q.I find that hard to believe, given your long experience with online media.

A. This is much bigger than online media. It’s about the future, the intersection of technology and marketing. Online media is certainly part of it, but this isn’t an online media agency.

Q. One of the unique things about Denuo is how you’re acquiring stakes in new media and tech companies in exchange for helping develop their ad products. What companies do you have a stake in now?

A. There’s Brightcove, Reatrix, Lightningcast and Black Arrow, which does networked hard drive video management. Those are the ones we are allowed to discuss publicly. There’s probably a dozen companies we have agreements with, at least another dozen in the works, and probably 40 or 50 on the horizon.

As we learn about new companies and new technologies, and as people learn more about us, these conversations are growing.

Q. Does the services for capital approach sort of hearken back to Web 1.0?

A. What we are basically saying is that it allows us to align with the media companies of tomorrow, those that are shaping the touch points of the future. We can help bring some of them to life as well as create opportunities for our companies in the network.

I don’t think it’s reminiscent of 1.0. It’s where we need to go. We want to make sure there’s a really strong rationale [for pursuing] these opportunities, whether it’s purely financially driven or whether we think it’s the next big idea.

Q. It seems that Denuo could be interpreted as a lead generation machine for Publicis Groupe, particularly given Rishad Tobaccowala’s history of leadership with the holding company.

A. The one thing we’ve been pretty adamant about is we’re free to work for whoever we want. We’re very proud to be part of Publicis Groupe and we think there [are] great opportunities to work with its clients and agencies. The companies within Publicis, many of them have reached out to us looking to partner. That’s wonderful.

That said, we also want to make sure we’re working on our own opportunities. [Companies] we think are ideal potential clients are companies that may not go to ad agencies for solutions.

Both Rishad and Maurice [Lévy, CEO and chairman of Publicis] have made it very clear this is an independent, fully-supported company of Publicis Groupe.

Q. Some people seem to think consolidation of online media companies is maxing out. Agree?

A. I don’t agree with that. There are a seemingly infinite number of Web sites. People are constantly trying new ideas. There are going to be additional opportunities for sites that don’t exist today but in the next six, eight, ten or 40 months are going to be the next big thing. That’s what makes this exciting.

Q. Is in-stream video advertising an overblown topic, given the shortage of inventory?

A. It’s not as mainstream as many of us would like. Many of us see video as the future. TV and online, all these things go together. The fact is that people want more of it and can’t get enough as fast as they would like. It needs to continue to mature.

Q. Anything seem especially underrated right now?

A. It’s not so much about underrated or overrated. What’s interesting to me is the mixture of everything together, whether its video or gaming or social media or portability. Suddenly everybody’s talking about consumer-generated. Is that now a separate medium?

To me it’s really how all those things fit together that makes this interesting.

Q. People keep saying this is going to be the year of brand advertisers flooding the Web with their marketing dollars, potentially even driving search’s share of spend down. Do you agree?

A. There have been a lot more brand advertisers coming to the Web. I don’t know if it’s “flooding.”

Search is going to continue to grow. There’s a lot of opportunity for search to be monetized. The really interesting thing is to see where search expands beyond the desktop. As it expands to things like TV, into the home, to all sorts of different appliances, that’s when it becomes exciting, and also confusing and challenging.

Q. Looking at Denuo’s line-up, I keep thinking of the Harlem Globetrotters.

A. While they’re all rock stars in their own right, they’re not overly pretentious. They do what it takes to get the job done.

Q. Denuo obviously has all the expertise it needs. I guess the next piece is learning to work as a team.

A. That’s right. And that’s what’s going to ultimately determine the success of the group.

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