Feature

Digital Agency Head of the Year 2020: Dani Bassil

She has shown a track record of bringing stability, dynamism and success to an agency that had very much been in flux.

Digital Agency Head of the Year 2020: Dani Bassil

Chief executive, Digitas

Bassil was the standout winner of this category, having demonstrated a compelling and formidable track record of bringing stability, dynamism and success to an agency that had been in disarray.

Digitas, and its previous incarnation DigitasLBi, had seemed permanently in flux since Publicis Groupe acquired SapientNitro (now Publicis Sapient) in 2015. Its nadir arrived in 2018 when the entire management team departed. Not only was Bassil left with the task of hiring a new top team, she had to form a new workplace culture while futureproofing the business in a tough environment for specialist digital agencies as more brands consider in-housing.

Yet Bassil managed to do this while helping win major new business. Digitas played a leading role in Publicis Media’s $1.7bn (£1.3bn) pitch for the GlaxoSmithKline global media account, which took the first half of 2019 to bed in to the business because of the account’s size and complexity. The agency also won Here Technology, the gum and biscuits division of Mondelez, as part of a global Publicis pitch, and played a role in Publicis winning the global Nivea account. These successes enabled Digitas to achieve profitable growth in 2019, with a bigger client portfolio as well as organic business growth.

As one judge put it, Bassil’s entry showed "a good, balanced mix of commercial achievements as examples of the type of leader Dani is and the culture and environment she’s strived to create. Sounds like the agency has been transformed in many ways under her leadership."

Bassil’s vision for the agency centres on "creating an environment to support happy people doing brilliant work for clients", which seems simple in theory but takes planning and determination to see through. Her reforms include setting up a new diversity council charged with helping to close the agency’s gender pay gap, which was significant under Digitas’ previous male-dominated leadership.

The agency has significantly boosted its investment in training under Bassil, and she has overseen the creation of a performance management tool and introduced workshops to support women returning to work after maternity leave.

She also overhauled the agency’s approach to recruitment to make Digitas more inclusive and diverse and to bring in the next generation from a range of backgrounds. The agency partnered WhiteHat to introduce an apprenticeship scheme recruiting such talent to the agency, which resulted in seven apprentices joining in February (two of whom were subsequently hired in September).

Bassil also launched an experience consulting arm in 2019 with the aim of enabling brands to transform their entire organisation, remove internal silos and fully connect their brand experience for customers. Given the efficiency and speed with which Digitas has changed under her leadership, Bassil seems well placed to get on with delivering similar transformation results for clients in 2020.