You don't need to be big to come up with a great creative idea - but its delivery requires scale.

Poynton and Vaz
Poynton and Vaz

Google employs 32,467 people. The headcount at Apple is 60,400. Facebook, a relative minnow, numbers 3,000-plus. But, like Amazon, with its 50,000 staff, it is double the size that it was two years ago. These companies, among the principal architects of the digitally enabled world we all now live in, are big and getting bigger. That should come as no surprise. What is a surprise is that the idea that scale is the enemy of innovation still finds support in parts of our industry.

When Jay Chiat famously asked of his (growing) agency Chiat/Day "How big can we get before we get bad?", he was laying himself a trap into which traditional agencies and their leaders continue to fall. Implicit in the question is the belief that, at some unspecified point on their growth curve, the innovation and inspiration that once made them great simply dies away.

There are echoes of Chiat's self-limiting "smaller is better" ethos still reverberating around agencies today. They recognise that the proliferation of technology is leading to a wholesale transformation of the way in which consumers interact with brands, and that, with it, the traditional agency model is challenged - yet they won't transform themselves to keep pace. They think small. They think "silo". They set up "labs" or, worse, bring on board a creative technologist - a unit of one. Then they wait with wide-eyed expectancy for these future-gazers to unravel the mystery of the consumer-technology relationship.

It's only a mystery if you treat it as a mystery. When a consumer rips open the packaging of their new smartphone or tablet, it is only a matter of time before they bend that technology to their own needs and behaviours.

Theodore Levitt once said "People don't want a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole" to illustrate the idea that companies tend to focus on the wrong things. At SapientNitro, we go one better - people don't want a quarter-inch hole; they want to hang a picture, or make an improvement that will enhance their lives. We won't set up a lab to explore and experiment with the technology. SapientNitro is structured to ensure that the entire business is focused on the experience and the benefits of the most relevant, innovative and rewarding consumer interaction with brands.

SapientNitro employs 6,000-plus. Yes, we're counting - not because size matters, but because it doesn't. Good is good. Quality does not come with size restrictions. It is true that you don't need to be big to have a big creative idea. You need to be big to deliver one, particularly in the digitally enabled, global economy we exist in today.

We are growing, and plan to keep growing, because clients come to us looking for creative solutions to their business challenges that go far beyond the obvious. Consumers now expect traditional advertising to be converged with customer service, sales and product development, as they see all of these as manifestations of the brand. They want to be heard and engaged with. They want the brands they choose to fit with their lives, not to be a series of interruptions and disconnected interactions. SapientNitro believes the brand is the experience and the experience is the brand.

For Ladbrokes, SapientNitro is a business and technology, creative and experience partner, and last year was asked to create all of its advertising. We won the business away from the traditional ad agency because we have the capability to be better at each individual element, but also because we could connect them to the benefit of the consumer and, ultimately, the brand. We helped to build the trading platform that is the Ladbrokes product, and created commerce experiences across online, mobile and in-store. The advertising we are creating reflects that knowledge, of the right consumers across the right channels, connecting it all to make Ladbrokes an engaging, listening and responsive brand that moves seamlessly between conversation, sales and service.

When Marks & Spencer appointed us for nothing less than the development of its first wholly owned multi-channel retail platform, it was because of our strong understanding of its brand and the way in which consumers experience it across channels, as well as our capability to deliver the technology that will drive it.

Our capability is possible because of our size, not in spite of it. Every one of the talented individuals that make up SapientNitro is an idea engineer, an innovator, a creator. We don't sideline or compartmentalise innovation. The whole of SapientNitro is one giant lab, structured to understand consumer behaviours and to create constructive interactions between brands and customers at the intersection of commerce and communication. Our culture is designed to facilitate a perpetual evolution, constantly learning from each other and our clients.

That's why, at SapientNitro, you will find strategists, planners, anthropologists, data analysts, technologists, experience designers, information architects, writers, art directors, web designers, social and cultural junkies, producers and project managers all working in cross-functional and non-hierarchical teams. This is not "integrated" - that flawed and forced concept peddled by parts of our industry. This is converged thinking, where collaboration happens without mentioning it. SapientNitro is built this way to necessarily redefine how brands connect with consumers, to reflect the contemporary structures of our clients and the demands of their consumers. This is not an experiment.

Digital is making horizontal connections across client companies and organisational silos are being dismantled as businesses transform for a digital world. At many clients, the marketing function now touches on retail in-store and online, customer service, communications, consumer feedback, innovation and product development.

The nature of change is reflected in the inputs, outputs and requirements that companies, their marketing and their IT functions must now address. Data and analytics, multichannel commerce, logistics, communications, mobile, social, content and the media that carry them - everything is bigger and more expansive.

Clients want agency partners that are big on capability and big on ambition. Conversely, they are not served well by an agency that treats digital technology as a novel experiment and which, when asked for a marketing solution that goes beyond advertising and its digital derivatives, takes a "bought media" approach.

The question is not how big is too big. The question is not even what are the next big technological leaps. The question is how do we stay relevant and add value to businesses and to consumers when the time and distance between interactions are being compressed.

Malcolm Poynton is the chief creative officer, and Nigel Vaz is the senior vice-president and managing director at SapientNitro





Nigel Vaz, senior vice-president and managing director; Malcolm Poynton, chief creative officer


815 in London; 6,000-plus globally


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What is the future for pureplay digital agencies?

They will always exist, but will be niche and struggle to influence

Which movie title best describes your agency?

The Pixar Story.