Player Profile: Anderson bridges divide in lead role at RappDigital

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As an agency senior VP in the mid-80s, John Anderson found himself in an office full of new Apple computers. But neither he nor his staff at Los Angeles office of Della Femina Travisano & Partners knew how to use them.

"We had them all over the agency, and we were trying to find out what to do with them," said the now 53-year-old Mr. Anderson. "It was my task to take a look at this technology we had and try to make some sense of it."

Fifteen years and significantly more technology experience later, Mr. Anderson is in charge of RappDigital, the digital marketing network of Omnicom Group's Rapp Collins Worldwide, in New York. He is general manager, a new position to which Mr. Anderson, previously exec VP, was promoted last month. As such, he is responsible for managing day-to-day operations including the oversight of all client relationships-with marketers including Hyatt Corp.'s and Mercedes Benz USA-and the 400-person staff of the RappDigital Network.

The Network includes RappDigital Consulting and Seattle-based e-mail marketing specialist Innovyx, as well as a 50% stake in Canadian Web-development company Critical Mass, based in Calgary, Alberta, and a minority interest in online research specialist Recipio, based in San Mateo, Calif.

With Mr. Anderson's promotion, RappDigital's founder and President J.G. Sandom, 44, assumed the new role of vice-chairman, focusing on corporate strategy and new business.

Despite the economic slump, which has been particularly hard on Internet-related companies, Mr. Anderson thinks RappDigital can capitalize on the demise of smaller, pure-play online agencies.

"We are in fact part of a larger offering. Rapp Collins is an old-line company that has been in this industry for a long time, and it's not going anywhere," he said, in contrast to smaller independents that "are all dying right now because they don't have any major hookups to support their revenue streams."

Jim Nail, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, agrees.

"There will be no pure-play interactive agencies within a couple of years," Mr. Nail said. "It's a recognition that online is just one element of the marketing mix."

Mr. Anderson, who joined RappDigital in March 2000-after stints at general and digital agencies as well as technology companies-to head up its e-consulting business, admits that the network, launched in October 1999, was "late in the game."

But Rapp Collins Chairman-CEO Malcolm Speed, who worked with Mr. Anderson in the marketing department of TWA in the 1970s, thinks RappDigital has benefited from predecessors' mistakes.

"There were a lot of digital companies out there of varying quality, and there was an extremely high amount of experimentation in those early years," Mr. Speed said. "We brought a lot of the do's and don'ts learned on other clients' money, non-Rapp clients," said Mr. Speed. Mr. Anderson "has worked at a senior level in above-the-line agencies, in direct, in digital, in technology, and ... he was a client for many years" at TWA and Dollar Rent-A-Car, Mr. Speed said.

Although RappDigital did not meet its robust revenue projections for 2001, the unit was profitable-boosted by client and billings growth, Mr. Anderson said.

"In the short-term, what we're trying to do is survive," said Mr. Anderson, who's optimistic that RappDigital will have "an extremely successful 2002."

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