Online advertising has evolved significantly since Razorfish was founded in 1995, moving beyond simple banner ads into an industry filled with its own niches: SEO, behavioral targeting, widgets and mobile, to name a few.
And now the advertising industry veteran is preparing to be a powerful force in a new facet of interactive because, in the opinion of Razorfish CEO Clark Kokich, the next phase -- Web 3.0, if you will -- won't be a new technology; it will be the widespread integration of all currently available technologies.
Clark Kokich is global president and CEO of Razorfish.
"For us, it's not a new technology or a new technique. Rather, its how clients and agencies are using digital to transform how brands deal with customers," Kokich says.
At the heart of Kokich's Web 3.0 vision is full integration of all the aspects of interactive.
"Web 3.0 will be much more focused on business solutions and less on marketing communications," he says. "We're at a point now where you take all of these tools -- websites, search, mobile, targeted ads -- and put them together in an integrated fashion."
Roadblocks to integration
Getting to this high level of integration is still a work in progress. While agencies like Razorfish are leaping at the opportunities presented by new technologies and developing campaigns across multiple channels, it's often the clients who are standing in their own way. While agencies are breaking down their silos to work across multiple channels, not all clients are thinking along those same lines. This makes it difficult to find the correct person to sign off on all aspects of an integrated campaign.
"The thing we're learning is that clients are not really organized to evaluate and approve digital programs that integrate ecommerce and customer service," Kokich says. "It's easy to figure out who makes the decisions on mobile, on web design and on search programs. But if you're taking all of those things together for a new way of doing business, it's difficult to find one person to make that decision."
Razorfish itself has some experience when it comes to integrating a brand's communications strategy and identity. Formerly Avenue A | Razorfish, the company recently shortened its name, in part to reflect that it functions as one unified entity. "We're one company, and we don't need two names," Kokich says. "It's a mouthful and really doesn't reflect the unified offering we have by combining the companies."
Surviving lean times
Although Razorfish isn't immune to the slowed growth across the online ad industry (the agency recently laid off 40 employees), the company is still one of the largest digital agencies in the world and well positioned to survive a slow economy -- in fact, client spending was up in the third quarter of this year.
"Growth is much less than it's been in the past, particularly in the financial services sector, where there have been significant cutbacks," Kokich says.
Yet Razorfish is in a position to survive the recession thanks to success that is built on three points.
"Most agencies are not really good at differentiating themselves. We believe we've done that really well by focusing on client business problems, not just advertising and web-design elements," says Kokich, who has been with Razorfish since 1999 and has been CEO since 2005. "Razorfish has succeeded where conventional agencies have not, thanks in large part to the ease with which a digital agency can present its clients with data and analytics.
Razorfish's other two pillars of success are seemingly polar opposites. While Kokich triumphs Razorfish's ability to take risks and defy convention -- "We don't allow ourselves to be held back as we would have in the past," he says -- he's quick to point out that you can't build an agency solely on a culture of risk taking. Razorfish would not be the ever-growing international powerhouse it is today without a stable backbone to build upon.
"The third thing that has made Razorfish successful, and I don't think this is mentioned very often, is we have a very stable management group," he says. "We've had virtually no turnover in the management group, so we're able to build strong, high-level relationships with clients."
But as Kokich continues the conversation, he's quick to return to the need to push the boundaries and learn from failures. "You have to be willing to fail if you're going to innovate," he says. And sure enough, Razorfish has taken its share of lumps on the path to integration.
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