Close-Up: Live Issue - Denuo's head aims to offer digital shepherding

Rishad Tobaccowala brings media experience to the characteristically youthful new-media sector, Noel Bussey reports.

The marketing world is sometimes baffled by the rise of new media, a factor Publicis Groupe is hoping to turn into profit with the launch of a digital marketing consultancy.

Denuo, which means "anew" in Latin, is attempting to do this through three core offerings, which it has termed Strategic Consulting, Ventures and Partnerships, and Catalyst and Activation.

Through Strategic Consulting, the company hopes to deliver its clients wide-ranging foresight and direction in the digital industry that is not available anywhere else - "effectively acting as shepherds to a confused flock", Rishad Tobaccowala, Publicis Groupe Media's chief innovation officer, who will head the business, says. "We are not talking about the industry 25 years from now - we are looking at what companies can expect from communications that are directly going to affect their businesses in the next two or three years."

Using partnerships with venture capitalists, Denuo is also funding a number of start-ups specialising in new-media technologies.

This strategy will not just give it an early insight into developments in the market, but will also earn it equity and give it first-mover rights for clients of these companies.

"There is a gap in the market there to be exploited. Start-ups have the capital and the technology, but they don't generally have enough insight," Tobaccowala says. "Through the second part of our offer, we can supply this. We can also exploit new revenue streams."

Denuo has already taken a stake in Brightcove, an open internet TV service; Shadow TV, a streaming-video service providing all-digital access to live and archive TV footage through the internet; and Lightningcast, which provides broadband advertising.

The final primary offering, Catalyst and Activation, will be about liaising with other Publicis Groupe companies around the globe to ensure the client's strategy is properly executed, while preparing them for the activation stage of their marketing plan.

Before its launch, Tobaccowala claims Denuo had six interested companies on the verge of signing up, two of which had no existing ties with Publicis Groupe. "Two days after the launch (on 19 February), we had contact from a further 15 clients who want to work with us and six venture capital companies looking to partner us in a number of start-ups," he says.

In running the business, which will initially be based in offices in New York and Chicago, Tobaccowala will report to Jack Klues, the Publicis Groupe Media chairman, and Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman and chief executive.

They will be supported by a group of 15 handpicked board members, who have experience of setting up and running innovative digital businesses.

These include Tim Harris and PJ MacGregor, the founders of Publicis Groupe's online game unit Play, Tom Tercek, the founder of SMG Access, and Courtney Jane Acuff, the founder of Digits Wireless.

This board will be presided over by Nick Pahade, the ex-president of WPP's Beyond Interactive and managing director of Media.Com, who will take up the position of president of Denuo and report directly to Tobaccowala.

Born in India and educated in Chicago, Tobaccowala has spent most of his 25-year career at Publicis Groupe, specialising in advising clients on integrating new technologies into their marketing strategies. He has also successfully established and run a number of companies for the group, including Starcom IP with Klues.

His age and experience means he could be seen as a member of the media old guard - but the truth is that much of his experience is in emerging media strategy.

But Pete Robins, the owner of Agenda21, an independent digital strategic planning company, thinks this is an advantage. "The market at the moment does not have enough mature people with that much experience," he says.

Debbie Morrison, the director of membership services at ISBA, agrees and believes clients are desperate for mature guidance and advice when entering digital marketing. "Rishad is the brightest person in this territory and he has a fantastic perspective of the future," she says.

Despite the growth rate of the digital industry, there are still very few businesses offering quality advice on digital strategies. Companies such as Agenda21 and i-level's Generator are desperately trying to convince more clients to enter the digital world.

Robins believes the success of a global strategic initiative in the digital arena could vastly improve this. "The company's success is dependent on numerous factors. If the people are good, the offer is genuine and Publicis realises it may not make a profit straight away, but still gives it the backing it deserves, it will be a success for the group and the industry overall."

Tobaccowala is enthusiastic on this point, saying: "There has been substantial investment made into this project. I'm not expecting to make a profit in the first year and Publicis knows this. In fact, both Jack and Maurice are the ones encouraging me to take more risks and not to be afraid of failure."

- Leader, page 24.


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