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News 10 May 2022 - 3 min read

Publicis revives Razorfish, eats Mercerbell, Performics sits apart as CEO Jason Tonelli targets $4.6bn martech-adtech waste, predicts ‘exponential’ creative automation surge

By Brendan Coyne - Editor

Razorfish CEO, Jason Tonelli: "Gartner estimates 58 per cent of martech is wasted. There's approximately $11bn of martech investment in Australia. We see a big opportunity."

Publicis is reviving Razorfish, a powerhouse brand mothballed after a series of mergers and loss of identity, now resurrected to tap a multibillion dollar waste of martech investment as brands seek to connect customer experience to the outside digital world. Jason Tonelli leads the push locally, forecasting a major surge in automated creative as marketers bid for personalisation at scale.

What you need to know:

  • The one-time white hot dotcom era digital creative and media shop Razorfish, acquired and offloaded by Microsoft more than a decade ago in a bundle to compete with Google in adtech, is making a comeback.
  • Publicis acquired Razorfish from Microsoft but ultimately fizzled into obscurity when the holdco merged it with Sapient.
  • It appears to be reforming as a standalone global network for Publicis as a specialist digital marketing transformation firm.
  • The local arm will have about 100 people, with aggressive growth ambitions.

Publicis has revived dotcom era digital hotshop Razorfish in Australia and swallowed up Performics Mercerbell, the units merged locally in September 2020. The holdco will keep global network Performics operational locally with eight staff, according to CEO Jason Tonelli, who will oversee both agency brands.

Publicis appears to be globally rebuilding the brand it acquired from Microsoft for US$530 million in 2009 before wrapping into SapientRazorfish in 2016 and then culling altogether in 2019.

A year later Razorfish returned in the US, followed by Canada in 2021. Alongside a Paris office, Tonelli said the brand has rebuilt headcount to 1,500 as vies with other agency groups to own digital marketing transformation, versus digital business transformation, where Sapient takes on consultancies.

Digital-creative-UX reboot

Razorfish’s Australian operation now houses 99 staff, according to Tonelli, who said the restructure is neither a reflection of a cultural divide between Performics and Mercerbell, nor a conflict resolution play.

“We’ve bought those two cultures together as one. This is what we've honed the agency to be over two years. Now is the time to accelerate growth.”

Tonelli said the holdco is keeping Performics because “it’s a global network brand … that still pitches a lot, and we wanted that ability to pitch” for pure performance work such as SEO and SEM where brands seek a single specialism.

Whereas Razorfish, he said, aims to make brands’ martech stacks work harder – for on-platform brand customer experience – and better link it to external advertising.

“There’s approximately $11bn spent on martech in Australia, but statistics from Gartner suggests only around 58 per cent of that is being used,” said Tonelli. If correct, that suggests $4.6bn worth of martech is sitting gathering dust.

“That's a lot of waste. We see a big opportunity by connecting that martech stack into the advertising world. That's where we play, how do we create experiences – creatively, media-wise, on-site – to go after that problem?” said Tonelli. “We see a big role in driving personalisation at scale.”

That includes creative automation – with Tonelli aiming for massive growth, going head-to-head locally with WPP-owned Hogarth’s addressable content practice among others. Tonelli said circa 35 per cent of clients are using dynamic creative optimisation today, but that is “accelerating exponentially this year”, forecasting a surge to “60-80 per cent” by the end of next year.

But he said Razorfish “will not do systems integration”, focusing squarely on “end-to-end digital marketing transformation”.

“That's where rubber hits the road. Where we've got a brand that has purpose, where it can then start to drive that purpose to their audiences at scale and connect that one to one experience, that is going to be our sweet spot. We'll do full funnel work, for sure. But digital marketing transformation is something that we're very focused on.”

The Razorfish brand launches officially with two new clients, GuildSuper and IVE Group joining Westpac, Anytime Fitness, Lenovo, AMEX, Red Energy and Ancestry.com on the roster.

GM George Sarris is promoted to Chief Operating Officer, while Andie Tickner has joined as Chief Customer Officer.

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