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Managing Digital: An Interview With Vito Piazza

Advertising Agency
Montreal, Canada
The President of Sid Lee Toronto on the company's digital strategy

In its series on managing the digital revolution, Marketing magazine reached out to Vito Piazza, President of Sid Lee Toronto, to get an idea how the company is navigating its way through the digital marketing revolution.

You can check out the interview, which originally appeared in Marketing magazine, below. 

Q> We have seen a shift from stand-alone digital agencies to a more integrated agency offering.  How has digital impacted your org chart and agency offering? 

VP> The Sid Lee answer to this one goes back to the very beginning. We integrated digital in the late nineties. From a thought-leadership, account-leadership, creative-leadership perspective, there has never really been a separation between digital and non-digital work. For us, our org-chart adds up to “one leadership, one roof”. So it’s having the right people — people that are able to bring digital leadership to the table, but also have a more generalist capability, and then have people who are more specialised in different aspects of digital.

Q> What’s your vision for the future of digital in your agency?

VP> No longer are agencies just about creating work from a great insight and then telling a good story. We are now integrating technology to add utility to the things we are creating. Regardless of whether it’s communication-based or even experiential such as architecture, digital has to be considered. Same thing with our A/V production house, Jimmy Lee, and how the content is being distributed. I would say the future is now and it’s really important to have digital embedded in all disciplines right off the bat.

Q> What areas of digital are handled in-house versus having it outsourced and why?

VP> We cover all strategy and creative development in-house. We’ll look outside when it’s a very specific piece of technology or something that’s emerging where we’re better off partnering with someone who is really on the bleeding edge so we can accelerate our process there.

The more we do in-house, the more we collectively learn as an organization. There’s a rapid pace of change and evolution, so for us to partner with the best is something we’re willing to do. But on the flip side you also have to give an opportunity to your team to do things themselves and to learn from that. And when you do that, you bring that expertise and that knowledge internally.

Q> In what unique way has digital made traditional advertising even better? Are there any examples you can provide?

VP> On the one hand, from a service offering perspective, you have to be infatuated with the consumer experience. That’s our focus as an agency: “What’s the consumer experience?” And if you want that experience to be transformational, you think beyond advertising to start. A traditional advertising perspective is very campaign based. It’s launch and see what happens, and then you plan for your next campaign and you move forward. Whereas with digital, it’s a bit more of a programming and a blueprint mentality. And when you start applying a blueprint mentality to advertising, I think that’s where you bring more value to your clients as well. Digital also has the capacity to elevate every consumer touch point.

Q> What are the biggest challenges you’re facing when it comes to working with clients from a digital perspective? 

VP> Obviously ROI is super important and there’s a lot of value in it, but it can also be very paralyzing. If you become too infatuated with ROI, it takes away the attention from the power of the idea. You also have to give yourself the latitude to say, “What’s the transformative idea? How are we going to get truly exceptional results?” We believe in the power of ideas to propel brands forward, and sometimes we need to bring that conversation to the forefront.

Q> Are clients generally open or cautious when it comes to pushing digital boundaries?

VP> Our experience is that clients are very aware that digital boundaries need to be pushed. Another observation: clients are now less interested in hearing what is simply possible. Instead, they are increasingly keen on discussing what’s best for their brand and business.

Q> What advice do you have for senior marketers when it comes to getting the most out of their digital partners?

VP> Senior marketers should challenge their agency partners with their biggest, juiciest business problems and opportunities. Have them step-up and approach it from this perspective and the solutions will be more effective and more surprising.

Q> How can clients help your agency do even better work for them?

VP> Clients and agencies should co-develop a long-term vision. Ask the question, “Where do we want to be in five years?” Then work backwards and break it down into pieces that will ladder up to the vision. It creates a clear path that all client partners can participate in.

Q> What key lessons has your agency learned when it comes to doing great digital work?

VP> We believe innovation is anchored in three key components: a deep understanding of the consumer experience we are crafting, proficiency in current and emerging technology, and a well crafted story. All this must be connected through a layer of data intelligence. Great digital work will happen when these things come together.

Q> As an agency, how do you stay at the forefront of digital and social media and how do you lead clients when it comes to innovation and creativity?

VP> Everyone we hire has to have the digital mindset. Ten years ago, you’d say “here’s the digital person, here’s the non-digital person.” Today? Everybody who works at this agency or any of our offices has to have a digital mindset — not necessarily the skill set, but definitely the mindset. There’s no compromise on that. Why? Because every consumer touch point has the potential to be digitized. You can invest in R&D, but without the right culture it will be difficult to make the connection to brands and business.

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