Revolution – Digital's Biggest Brains – Strategic Thinking

Was asked to write a piece for Revolution – which has always been one of my favorite interactive industry magazines.  Ironically the article isn't available online, so I've put up images of the scans below and pulled out my piece. Great to get iris Digital in great company and see other names that have been in the UK biz for a while.  Though adding the ages seems a little unfair — since I met a good few of them 10 years ago I now know they were in fact 12 when they started. Just dug up some of my original comments as well.  It is too bad the last question didn't make the magazine — although I should say Kim Benjamin did a great job. Here it is:

Digital is not famous for having people in positions of power, making hard-nosed business decisions. How do you see this changing?

Digital is still a relatively young specialism so it isn’t surprising that high profile digital leaders aren’t in the headline grabbing positions of power — unless you are talking about digital businesses like eBay, Amazon, Yahoo!, Facebook or Google. That said these leaders’ decisions get quite a bit of attention and impact both the digital and traditional business significantly. Things will change as the current generation of business leaders moves on. Today we’re in the position where every business says “digital is important”  and “digital is at the heart of our business” but like their advertising it is just a claim.  Very soon we will see a new generation of leaders that understand like Google it isn’t what you say, but what you do.  Or that like eBay network effects are very significant and not just a buzz word. And that the functionality on your website — a software development challenge — can make your business like Amazon. It is so much more then understanding how to make computers do interesting things, it is understanding a new approach to marketing and communication.



R/GA – AgencySpy hits a key point

Matt Van Hoven over at AgencySpy gets to see a lot of agencies and definitely spends a lot of time thinking about them and writing about them.  As much as you can’t say it is high-brow journalism, it is entertaining.  And can be insightful.

Take this comment from his recent visit to R/GA, one of the most successful agencies (of any kind) in the last 5 years. AgencySpy
“Here’s how it’s not a traditional shop. Technology plays a greater role here than we realized, typified by “technical creatives” who sit in the same space as the writers, artists and whatnot. Ideas come from everywhere, including the people who know how gadgets work. No writer/art director silos here.”

The key point here is that producing strong digital work requires more the smart creatives thinking about good digital ideas — it reaquires a structural change in how traditional agencies operate and a much stronger appreciation for the technical staff they currently keep in the basement next to the print production team.

The More Things Change …

Just came across this article that was written back in 2000.  We were a year into having set up in the UK and the dot com boom was still expanding, although had collapsed.  The amazing thing about this article to me is seeing how much of what we said then, we still say and do today.

Feature: Decoded: Organic – no call for booing

Decoded: Organic – no call for booing

Date: 25 July 2000

Along with Razorfish and, Organic is one of the main US players operating on both sides of the Atlantic and, like many US interlopers, it’s quick to claim its relative years of experience as a competitive advantage. But Organic can legitimately claim to have been involved in one of the most salient experiences the sector has so far seen; one of its clients was

Not that the company bears any malice. John Baker, who moved across from the New York office to become UK managing director, says they parted on good terms and that Organic still stands by the work it did. “We still have people tell us that it was one of the most innovative sites,” he enthuses.

He does emphasise though, that Organic’s contribution was a small part, creating the Flash applications for the products and dressing room, as well as all the rich media advertising for Boo’s online campaigns. And, not surprisingly, there’s no longer any mention of the failed online sports fashion retailer in any of Organic’s press material; not so much standing by as saying bye.

Nevertheless, the experience is just one in Organic’s portfolio. Like it or not, the big US players are big precisely because they started earlier, and in a young industry, experience is all the more valuable.

3 card trick

Founded in San Francisco in 1993, Organic now boasts nine offices and 1200 employees worldwide. It opened its first international office in Sao Paolo, Brazil, at the end 1997, and is now operating in London, Singapore and Toronto, as well as across the US.

Having opened in London in June last year, the company has 90 employees based in its Queens Park office, including 25 engineers, 15 designers, 15 project management, 15 marketing solutions and 10 strategy consultants.

“We tend to operate with dedicated core teams, and build them out as we go,” explains Baker. “Unlike some agencies, we give the client around five key contacts -[for example] an engineering lead, creative lead and strategic lead, as well as the project leader.”

This, he says, helps keep communication open. “Experience shows us that if you only have a single point of client contact, like an account manager, it can become a bottleneck.”

As befits an agency located in Queens Park, just a stone’s throw from dotcom mecca in Notting Hill, its focus is on the more glamourous end of interactive services, specialising in design and marketing. Organics UK services are split into three departments: online marketing, i-business development and strategic consultancy.

Each of the sectors do operate standalone but, pressed for a particular strength, Baker says: “it has to be the integration,” meaning the offering of its three strands as a complete service.

Baker says i-business, the engineering part, forms the core of Organic UK’s work accounting for about 60% of its business. “We have strong skills in Flash, and with the ATG and BroadVision platforms. And we don’t think of WAP as a separate thing either,” he says. “It’s important to keep the engineers centralised, because they need to know how to make applications extensible to all devices.”

On the marketing side, which accounts for around 20% of business, Organic offers full online media services, from planning and executing basic banner campaigns to striking portal deals and running email campaigns.

Strategic consulting, which accounts for the last 20%, also includes offering its US-based customer services and fulfillment brokering. Baker explains: “We also offer consulting on everything after the customer hits the buy button – what kind of warehousing or packaging do they have? In the US we have relationships with warehouses and call centres, and can integrate our clients with these services if they require.”

Again, the Boo experience has bearing: “Boo had great (order) fulfillment in place and well-branded packaging. It’s just that their e-commerce engine was so horrendous.”

These services are currently only offered to UK clients on an ad hoc basis, but Baker says a full roll-out will take place here later this year. In the US, Organic is facilitating fulfillment for clients including Tommy Hilfiger and Iomega.

Clients and partners

Organic is one of IBM’s Global Services and Pervasive Computing partners, and does a lot of work with its WebSphere platform. It also has formal relationships with BroadVision, ATG (Art Technology Group), Open Market and Pandesic.

As Baker points out, such a range of partnerships is important because no one platform fits all clients. But while the company is not limited to these platforms, he also advises that the relationships are more than just marketing deals, providing training and technical support to Organic’s staff.

The company has a lot of its experience in industry verticals, such as electronic retail and telecoms. Clients include, for which Organic has recently completed its SME portal and Business Store on the BroadVision platform. It also built the front-end of IP telco’s site and

As well as BT, Daimler Chrysler is Organic UK’s cornerstone client, working on its pan-European site. The company’s major US clients include, Blockbuster and Hewlett Packard.

Organic works on both fixed payment and retainer-based accounts, preferring the former for dotcoms and the latter for large corporates. Baker says this is because they tend to hand completed projects over to dotcoms, because, unlike traditional companies, the website is the dotcom’s core business.

Keeping to the front

Organic’s focus is very much on front-end solutions, with its skills in Flash and e-commerce systems. The company doesn’t do backend, preferring to work with other solutions providers for this, such as Unisys on the Quip account. “We don’t have a systems integrator approach,” explains Baker, “so we don’t do ERP or legacy integration.”

As is becoming increasingly common with larger agencies, last May it opened an R&D lab in its New York office, principally to experiment with wireless and broadband solutions. The lab operates in two ways. Firstly, the company funds research in areas it feels it needs to develop, to generate case studies and best practices, and secondly it co-funds with clients developments that directly benefit them. It’s currently running a WAP project for an undisclosed UK client.

Organic offers the usual company incentives to try and attract and keep staff, with “benefits, a recreation room, bagels, beer bashes and the like,” says Baker. It also stubbornly clings to one of the internet’s original business differentiators, proudly claiming its professional services take a “C2B” approach. As Baker puts it: “This reflects our user-centric development and the change in control from manufacturers to customers.”

Despite such platitudes, Organic is one of the few agencies that can point to some longevity. So what was the biggest lesson from the Boo experience? “I think it’s definitely a preference to have full service engagement on a project, to be accountable for what we do,” says Baker. “There were eight partners working on Boo, and we saw a lot of changes taking place that we couldn’t control, and all we could do was end on good terms.”

Source: Netimperative

Industry Recognition

They say blogs are written for the blogger — I know I’m working too much and neglecting my blog when all I have is “ego posts.” That said, if you get an ego moment might as well share it.

Marketing Direct – Power 100: Top 10 Digital DM Players

Marketing Direct’s survey of the 100 most powerful people in UK direct marketing.


Ben Langdon ranked 10th in our list of power players last year – but his company was only about six months old. One year on, he is living up to his “ruthless” reputation. He is a true power player with a single-minded focus for his operation: to become the pre-eminent digital direct marketing group in the UK. The company remained in acquisition mode over the past 12 months, buying digital creative agencies Hyperlaunch and Graphico for a combined £12m. Langdon aims to offer the complete suite of skills at DMG – and he doesn’t underestimate the importance of data for truly interactive digital marketing. “Many agencies in London simply try to be advertising agencies,” he says. “The real power is in the data you capture – that’s why we bought Jaywing.”

With recorded pre-tax profits of almost £6m in the 12 months to March 2008, the company has achieved a lot in a short space of time, winning Digital Direct Marketing Services Supplier of the Year 2007 at the Connect Awards.


Last year, Peter Riley ranked fourth in our list of 10 digital direct power players. Since then 20:20 Group has continued to innovate, and has been rewarded for its efforts. Laughing at comments about his “healthy ego” (“Well, my Mum says it’s true …”), Riley and his group has been courted by many large agencies in recent months.

Over the past year, 20:20 has won a place on the COI roster and led the digital strategy and creative work for the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ teenage pregnancy and safe sex campaign. It also won the brief to launch the Terminator TV show on Virgin 1, while its work for PlayStation has notched up awards including a Cannes Lion and two DMA Golds. Meanwhile, Riley converted a Grade 2-listed East End church to house the company, and says he has currently got his eye on another property.


Veteran direct marketer Mark Patron is proof that data geeks can make the best digital gurus. As CEO of online marketing company Red Eye, he is championing the integration of traditional DM principles with digital approaches. His passion for bringing measurability and accountability into the online arena was pivotal in Red Eye sales reaching £4.4m last year, up from £1.7m in 2005. Red Eye was also listed in The Sunday Times’ Tech Track 100 league table in 2007, confirming its position as one of the fastest-growing new technology companies in the UK. After 14 years at Claritas, now Acxiom, and having launched, Patron always has his finger in numerous pies and is described as a “master of reinvention” and a “serial entrepreneur” by peers. “He just keeps coming back for more,” says one.


There is no doubt that John Baker is a heavyweight in the world of digital DM. Previously head of digital at OgilvyOne, and now joint MD of Iris Digital, his unassuming manner belies enormous industry knowledge and know-how. At OgilvyOne, Baker was a member of the management partner team that won Campaign’s Direct Agency of the Year – in large part due to its strength in digital marketing. Not content with routinely winning business from digital pure-plays, he oversaw the introduction of an email marketing group and the hiring of Skip Fedura, ex-director of European operations at Digital Impact, to lead the initiative. Baker says he was attracted by Iris’s “entrepreneurial nature” – and that he is looking forward to “big growth”.

A Good First Week

In classic fashion in the first week you start a new job, there is a pitch.

Can’t say it was a wholly digital pitch but it was more then digital in parts.

And we won which is always great.

It was also a case of seeing the power a great copywriter can bring to a creative solution.  So often in digital agencies “creative” is thought of as “design.”  It makes sense when you think of the importance of interface and craft in good digital work, but none the less when you see a strong idea with fantastic writing it shows.

Now the real fun begins.

iris wins Hertz

Moving Hits the News

They say blogs are all about the blogger — and in fact sometimes it is true.

Teams been talked to, clients notified, internal announcements made and the press release sent out. And of course George got it out on his blog, as you’d expect from a fully entrenched digital maniac.

If you are interested the articles that are online are here:

brandrepublic-new-logo.jpg  Iris raids Ogilvy for digital chief Baker

NMA Logo  OgilvyOne’s John Baker Heads to Iris

Personally I’m really looking forward to the entrepreneurial kick of building up a group and helping an independent agency grow. Being on the MTeam at Organic (or BigWigz as it was also once called) was some of the most interesting and fun work I’ve seen. Big enough to have scale (and even go public amazingly), small enough to still make calls and move on them.

Ogilvy is a great company and OgilvyInteractive will have a great year — particularly in London. We’ve built the base with a lot of clients, done great work and hired lots of really talented people.

It is a tough decision choosing between moving a big company that is at the top of its game, gets digital marketing and does move — all be it at times slowly — or a small company that has a seriously entrepreneurial attitude, great approach to people and is growing like mad on the back of great work. Or perhaps I should actually just thank the Internet for the choices. Who would have thought the Mini-Tel could turn into this.

A Good Year for Iris Direct – Marketing Agency of the Year

Since it is now all about Iris, I thought I’d pull out some background on the place. High growth, good work, people focused, independent and ambitious. It is a nice mix.

Agency of the Year 2007: Direct Agency of the Year – Best of the rest

Marketing 12-Dec-07

Hours of painstaking deliberation could not help the judges separate the joint runners-up for the Direct Agency of the Year award – Iris and Partners Andrews Aldridge.

Iris, which launched in 1999, has grown at breakneck speed. The judges
were particularly impressed with its string of diverse and heavyweight
new business wins this year. The integrated agency demonstrated its

ability to deliver on mail briefs, with other business units offering
expertise on sales promotion, sports sponsorship and experiential
marketing campaigns.Iris is now the global sponsorship agency for ING, lead global digital
agency for Shell, a digital roster agency for Coca-Cola, and was hired
by Southern Comfort for an EMEA brief. It also won promotional briefs to
support Unilever’s Sure, Lynx and Vaseline brands, as well as UK direct
marketing business for Gala Bingo.

Iris has been recruiting to accommodate this increase in business. The
most high-profile appointment came in May, with the arrival of former
British Airways finance director Drew Thompson as chairman. The agency
also poached Archibald Ingall Stretton’s Alistair Bryan and WWAV Rapp
Collins’ Paul Beier.

Green issues have continued to rise up the corporate agenda, and the
selected agencies were asked to provide evidence of their own
environmental credentials.

In March, Iris took part in ‘Lights out London’, which saw the agency
cut its energy consumption by 30%. It also runs recycling initiatives
and a ‘bike to work’ scheme, among other programmes.

A Good Year for OgilvyOne

Something to Shout AboutCampaign today announced OgilvyOne has be awarded DM Agency of the Year for the first time in its history.

It’s a good thing and given how important digital marketing has been to the British Airways win, an indication of how important having a real interactive capability is for direct marketing agencies. This is both creative concepting and production from OgilvyInteractive as well as digital media planning and buying from Neo@Ogilvy. Great work Bo and Richard.  And of course Mike, Annette, Colin and company.

Watch out — Software developers are becoming admen, and admen are becoming engineers.

“All marketing will be digital sometime in the next 10 years”

–Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft, BusinessWeek, Oct 2007

Great quote for people in our industry and one that I think everyone fundementally believes.

It is interesting that in response to a threat to traditional software revenue, one of the smartest companies on the planet is focusing on advertising as its next source of revenue. Just when everyone thought advertising was dead.

What can we take away from this?

1) No one will pay for software anymore.

Microsoft believes people will not pay for applications. It is clear that Google also believes this and is putting into action from e-mail to word processing.

Stop and think of all of the applications you use to help you with your life –word processing, e-mail, financial planning tools, excersize trackers, vacation planners, home maintenance logs. Everyone of them can be provided by a brand in exchange for customers’ loyalty and not sold for £20 (or £200) at PC World.

2) Advertising isn’t dead, it simply has a new home

When a brand creates an application to help its customers, it still has to remind its customers why their product is relevant and let them know about new releases. This unobtrusive communication is the new advertising. Think of the VideoEgg and YouTube’s approach which recognises there are lots of times people want to watch an ad, not the current industry review in the UK to increase ad time from 7 minutes per hour to 12 on commercial TV.

3) Advertising will be driven by applications

Bob Garfield here talks about advertising being dead, or at least the 30 second spot. “Brands need to connect with customers.” We hear that a lot, but what does it mean? It means brands need to create applications that are useful and make a difference for their customers to pay attention and like them. That’s calculators, games, educational tools and billboards that notice your tire pressure is low and remind you take care of your car.

4) Learn to love your techies

Jonathan Nelson, founder of Organic, has always said “the world will never get less technical. It not like people can’t find more places to put microchips.” If marketers need to create applications to get their customers attention, they better learn the language of software development. People love to talk about digital channels, but a video ad can be a pre-roll on a website. That is digital but it isn’t unobtrusive. A print piece can be sent over e-mail. For marketing to be interactive, it needs to be functional. For anything — website, banner, billboard, video ad — to be functional, it has an application behind it.

Go out and hug a software engineer, it could be the most important thing you do for your marketing.