Agency A-List

Razorfish Is No. 4 on the Ad Age Agency A-List

Digital-Agency Acquisitions Rarely Result in the Kind of Success This Shop Has Had Since Landing at Publicis Group in 2009

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Guarding a well-worn conference table in Razorfish's New York office is a tank filled with exotic fish -- at least two of which have been with the agency almost from the beginning.

Their original owner, founder Jeff Dachis, is long gone, and Razorfish is a veritable Frankenstein of digital shops, disciplines and technologies. But after multiple mergers, acquisitions, parent companies and a couple of different names, the firm and the fish have all found a home within Publicis Groupe .

In an all-too-rare occurrence in digital-agency deals, both Razorfish and Publicis appear to be flourishing. Fueled by the French parent's introductions, Razorfish has welcomed new clients, including Disney and Kellogg Co.Combined with other wins and organic growth from the likes of Intel and Mercedes-Benz, that has led to double-digit revenue growth and a 21% jump in headcount. Meanwhile, Publicis, which bought Razorfish from Microsoft in 2009 for $500 million, is looking to the digital shop for lessons in collaboration and tech-based business models.

"You have to be honest and objective on things you need to build or borrow; you need to be unselfish in what you share," said Jack Klues, CEO of Vivaki, the umbrella unit for Razorfish and other digital and media agencies. Build, borrow, share: "Razorfish and Vivaki are helping all of Publicis learn those three words," he added.

Last month, Razorfish Global CEO Bob Lord was given a major role in charting the course for $7 billion Publicis as the head of the "transformation committee," which is charged with evaluating the firm's global assets and recommending a strategy to strengthen its digital fabric. The role is well-suited to Mr. Lord, a 12-year Razorfish veteran who has spent much of his career outside a traditional ad holding company.

"We were independent for so long, we had to be Switzerland," Mr. Lord said. The ability to play nice with siblings has helped Razorfish win and retain major pieces of new business, including a significant portion of a $1 billion Disney media account in 2011.

Credit: Josie Jammet

"We saw [collaboration] firsthand in the Disney pitch," Mr. Klues said. "We built out a holistic agency, FourD, which was the best of Digitas, Razorfish, Optimedia and MediaVest."

And when Kellogg , a longtime Leo Burnett client, needed a digital specialist, it was introduced to Razorfish. After a year of working together, Larry Bruck, Kellogg 's senior VP-global media and marketing operations, said that though Razorfish isn't right for every challenge, it's right for big ones, including the largest brand, Special K.

Zeroing in on what it does best is one of the keys to Razorfish's success. The agency had global revenue of $406 million in 2010, according to Ad Age DataCenter, and projects that it had double-digit growth globally and in the U.S. in 2011.

More than 40% of its revenue comes from web development, social media and mobile. And Razorfish is comfortable not being all things to all clients. "You need to find great partners in the world," Mr. Lord said.

Razorfish stepped in when Delta Air Lines was looking to revamp its website, previously handled by sibling Digitas. (Digitas still does the carrier's customer-relationship management.)

In contrast to Razorfish, other agencies offered interesting but not transformational ideas, according to Bob Kupbens, VP of e-commerce for Delta.

"We can throw a nasty, thorny business problem at Razorfish," Mr. Kupbens said.

And core competencies aside, Razorfish isn't afraid to stretch.

The agency was asked last year to build brand stories for Microsoft's search engine, said Danielle Tiedt, Bing's general manager-worldwide marketing. Razofish's ability to think beyond digital was a big reason it created TV commercials for the brand, said Ms. Tiedt.

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