PLAYER PROFILE: Bain boosted to CEO post at Publicis Technology

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Ad agencies specializing in technology clients are a dime a dozen in San Francisco, but that doesn't seem to faze Alison Bain.

Ms. Bain is newly promoted to president-CEO of Publicis Technology in the U.S. She's charged not only with enlarging the agency's tech portfolio, but extending its capabilities into other markets where Publicis already has a presence -- Chicago, Dallas, New York and Seattle.

It's a huge task, especially amid the dot-com frenzy and pressure to build brands in Internet time, but the 38-year-old U.K. native believes Publicis is more than up to the task.

In the nine months since Ms. Bain first arrived as managing director, she and her team have snared several key clients, including Garden Ridge, Imation, iTool, Match.

com, Whirlpool Corp. and Yipes.

For Whirlpool, Publicis is redesigning the company's Web site to incorporate lead management, online relationship marketing and other systems that will transform the site into more than a repository for product information.

Publicis Technology is also seeking to broaden its roster from pure tech players and dot-coms to companies that are powered by technology.

OUT OF LONDON

Ms. Bain was director of client services at Publicis Technology in London before arriving in San Francisco two years ago to create the agency's first U.S. tech unit. "I wanted to work with technology brands where the decisions were being made and to help tech brands go global," she said.

So she packed up her two young children and copywriter husband (then with Saatchi & Saatchi), and they all moved to California.

Luckily for neophyte dot-coms, Ms. Bain came armed with 15 years of agency experience. At Publicis in London, she handled such high-tech heavyweights as Adobe Systems, AMD and Oracle Corp. But she began her ad career at Young & Rubicam in London, where she worked on Ford Motor Co. and Monsanto Co. After a year, she moved on to Euro RSCG.

BRAND PASSION

In 1992, Ogilvy & Mather lured her away to work on Compaq Computer Corp. Two years later, when the agency won IBM Corp., Ms. Bain became group account director on the plum assignment. Her IBM stint ultimately led to Publicis Technology, which came calling in 1997.

"I think my biggest challenge is to grow Publicis Technology into a great brand by producing great work," Ms. Bain said. Part of that mission means assembling the right group of people. So far, there are 180 people at the agency's Battery Street offices. Ms. Bain said she expects that number to grow markedly in the next few months.

"We want to bring on the right people who are passionate about building brands," she said. "I'm interested in the intersection between technology and humanity."

The tech drive requires enormous resources. The agency was involved in 42 pitches during the last nine months with a "hit" rate of 43%, she said. Now, the agency will become more selective in the clients it chooses to pitch.

"I would rather work with companies that work to build their brands than a dot-com that wants to go IPO," Ms. Bain said.

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