Tales and fins from the heads of online ad agency Razorfish: Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology

May 8, 2013 5:38 pm

Tales and fins from the heads of Razorfish

Review by Emily Steel, US media and marketing correspondent

Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology
By Bob Lord and Ray Velez, Wiley, $29.95/£19.99

This story starts at a point in time that most observers predicted it would end. The year was 2002. The internet party was long over. Pets.com and other high-flying digital darlings were defunct. It was the dark days for the few survivors of the dotcom bubble, and Razorfish was barely hanging on.

The brash online ad agency that had come to symbolise the arrogance and frivolity of the era had slashed its staff from 1,800 employees to just 230. The company was sold for $8.2m – a minuscule fraction of its $4.2bn market value just two years bef­ore. One journalist asked the new owner if he was nuts for buying the shop.

Razorfish kept its grip, however, convincing one corporation then another that the internet was not a passing business fad. The once separate worlds of marketing, media and technology had started to collide rapidly, offering fundamentally new ways for businesses to operate and connect with consumers.Razorfish gradually rebuilt its business on this premise and emerged on top once again, this time as a real business. Now owned by advertising group Publicis, Razorfish stands as one of the largest digital ad agencies in the world. It has more than 3,000 employees and counts Ford, Kellogg, Unilever, Nike and Microsoft among its clients.

Bob Lord and Ray Velez have been on the front lines of this battle, starting at Razorfish in the late 1990s and now working respectively as chief executive and chief technology officers of the agency.

Converge, their chronicle of this transformation, stands out from other marketing books by offering valuable insights into the vast changes that are upending a broad range of industries. The authors bring these esoteric concepts to life via detailed case studies from a wide range of industries, ranging from a hamburger-builder app for McDonald’s in Germany to the data-driven re-election campaign for President Barack Obama.

Take, for instance, the example of a virtual Tesco grocery store in a South Korean subway station. Shoppers perused aisles stocked with pictures of food. They used their smartphones to scan items they wanted to buy and schedule a home delivery. Was this an ad campaign, an e-commerce play or a technical feat? The auth­ors argue for all of the above and show how companies must reorganise in order to take advantage of the new possibilities.

The book also outlines innovations that lie ahead, such as connected homes orGoogle’s new tech-savvy glasses. Finally, Lord and Velez provide an actionable plan to help businesses organise themselves to take advantage of the disruption.

For the most part, the examples described in the book are the exception to the way businesses operate today, not the rule. The advertising industry may be grappling with a new wave of storytelling, the rise of big data and changing media consumption habits, but most companies are stuck with organisational charts from the Mad Menera. The authors argue that corporations must re­structure so that marketing and technology departments work together in ways they never have before.

At some points in the book, jargon-filled sentences might distract readers not accustomed to marketing speak. (A det­ailed glossary helps to decipher an alphabet soup of terms such as APIs and RTB.) Meanwhile, trying to capture an industry in the midst of such revolutionary changes is challenging. The pace of change is accelerating so quickly that already some case studies are on the verge of seeming stale.

Of course, given the authors’ jobs, one would expect them to argue for the radical changes they set out in the book. Nonetheless, they provide a fresh lens for evaluating an industry in rapid transformation.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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