Digital Innovation Agency of the Year 2013: SapientNitro

SapientNitro has continued to blur the line between digital ad agency and innovations lab by building a body of eclectic and pioneering work during a lucrative and award-winning year.


In a year when the importance of crea­tivity and innovation in digital rose further, SapientNitro stood ahead of its peers.

And SapientNitro’s creativity extends to trying to make the world a better place. The agency that brought a smile-powered ice-cream dispenser into being for Unilever in 2010 set its sights this year on helping the nation live longer with an interactive map for Public Health England. The map is a web-based dashboard of facts, research and statistics that highlight the best and worst places to live based on publicly available health data with a traffic-light system.

Elsewhere, the agency took to the streets to broadcast Absolute Radio’s breakfast show from a London cab to demonstrate Sky’s "superfast" broadband credentials. It invented a way to withdraw cash from ATMs without a card for the Royal Bank of Scotland and created "Tech Ball" – an interactive football designed to capture images and data. Ex­perimenting with Facebook’s API and 3D printing last Christmas, SapientNitro created bespoke snowflake visualisations of people’s social connections online.

The "Get Cash" activity enables RBS customers, or their friends and family, to withdraw cash using a six-digit code that is sent to their mobile phones. The app won a gold Mobile Lion at Cannes and a gold in Best Use of Mobile and Portable Devices at the Digital Impact Awards. These are among the 23 creative gongs the agency has scooped for its innovative work this year.

Earlier in 2013, SapientNitro brought together the acclaimed fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, the Oscar-winning director James Cameron and the celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal as part of its Idea Exchange (iEX) to discuss inno­vative brand storytelling in a digital world. The conference tackled issues around authenticity, agility and social responsibility.

The agency also democratised the dis­cussion around art for the Institute of Contemporary Arts’ VIP opening night, held in London’s Selfridges. Art Rules, a website built by SapientNitro, collated the discussion generated from submissions at the event on mounted iPads and through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest with the hashtag #whatisart. Usually confined to galleries, the conversation opened up the debate from a physical location and enabled users to discuss the "rules" of art.

Of course, it wasn’t just about the work; this is also set to be a good year financially for the agency. After posting revenues of £132 million in 2012, SapientNitro claims it is on target to exceed that figure in 2013. With first-half revenues up £4.5 million on the same period last year, the agency has again performed exceptionally.

As for its people, SapientNitro is investing heavily. The agency’s headcount has increased to 1,013 from 892 a year ago. Key appointments include Neil Dawson, a founder of Enter and former TBWA\London chairman, as the chief strategy officer across Europe and Trefor Thomas, a founder of Brand Advocate, as a creative director. Nigel Vaz was promoted to European managing director in January and was inducted into the British Interactive Media Association’s Digital Hall of Fame in July. The chief creative officer, Malcolm Poynton, was selected to join Bima’s "Hot 100" and was named in the first TechCityInsider100 list of influential people in digital.

SapientNitro’s digital talent was also recognised in April, when its vice-president of strategy and analysis, David Thorpe, joined the Government Digital Service on a year-long secondment as the deputy director of digital policy. At the GDS, Thorpe will help the Government deliver on its promise of "digital by default" public services before returning to the agency.

Internally, SapientNitro has launched its Women’s Leadership Network to develop female leadership at the agency, and PRIDE, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender network with a focus on advocacy and education. It has also completed a four-mile sponsored run, raised money for Help for Heroes and connected with Oaklands College, St Paul’s Way Trust School and Bima to provide opportunities for students to learn about the world of work.

Other creative highlights this year include an app for Aviva that allows users to add household items to their insurance policies by taking pictures of them, a Social Stock Ticker that prints a summary of positive versus negative mentions of a brand on social media and an intuitive tool for Barclays Wealth that speeds up searching on the site for customers the agency describes as "having more money than time".

Recent winners: Work Club (2012); AKQA (2011); AKQA (2010); Glue (2009); AKQA (2008)