Q&A: Sapient’s Legorburu

SAN FRANCISCO Gaston Legorburu, chief creative officer of Sapient, is trying to add creative digital marketing credentials to a company known for straitlaced strategic consulting and Web site building.

In December 2005, Sapient bought his Internet marketing agency PGI in Miami and put Legorburu in charge of its new Experience Marketing practice, which focuses on online advertising. As PGI’s CEO, he handled digital marketing, media planning and media buying for clients such as Citibank, and continues that work under the Sapient umbrella.

Sixteen months after the sale, Sapient has landed dozens of new marketing assignments, mainly on the West Coast from clients such as Sony, Honda Jet, Quicken and Logitech. It reported revenue of $406 million in 2006, up 30 percent from 2005. Sources said the Experience Marketing group now accounts for a full 40 percent of Sapient’s total revenue. A key client, Citibank.com managing director Catherine Palmieri, said the Sapient work is performing “extremely well.”

Legorburu offers a glimpse inside a global strategic player quickly moving into the marketing arena.

Q: Why did you have to sell your agency when you did?
A: We had to. At PGI our clients, such as Citi and Burger King, wanted to invest more in digital marketing and perceived they needed a bigger agency than ours. We were too small to stay independent

Yet you sold your shop to Sapient rather than an advertising holding company. Why?
Yeah, everybody wanted to date us, including lots of ad companies. But I’m convinced that technology is the secret weapon in marketing. You must have it to make ideas happen. With Sapient we got the tech part, it is our ultimate set of tools. Plus Sapient offered a client list that is a dream. Most marketing departments and most agencies have no control over the technology; it is controlled by the IT people. Here we can do both—the creative design part of the marketing and the ability to build it.

Did the sale mean you had to move to Sapient offices in Boston or Los Angeles?
No, I’ve stayed in Miami, though I travel to the West Coast a lot. Our Experience Marketing division has picked up the bulk of its new clients in the West, including Logitech, YellowPages.com and Honda Jet. On the West Coast they know Sapient more as a Web design shop, we don’t have to explain ourselves as much. In other parts of the country, they see Sapient more as a dotcom consultancy. We actually do both, so it can get confusing.

How has your role changed from being the CEO of an independent shop?
Now my mission is to show the world how creative Sapient can be, to bridge the gap [among] the consulting, marketing and IT functions and help us become a digital hybrid. I am trying to infuse the art of advertising into the Web sites and interfaces that are designed by Sapient. In some ways I’m also like the CMO of Sapient, trying to get the word out about this transformation. We are reorganizing our own marketing department and putting together a creative reel. And I’m always complaining about the anemic marketing budget I have to promote the Sapient brand as a digital marketing player.

What account brings you closest to your goal?
It would have to be Citibank.com., the online services division of Citibank. It is a well-rounded example of what we can do as the lead digital agency for a brand. They spend about $20 million online and use very little traditional advertising to promote their digital financial services. The work includes online promotions, Web banners and microsites, and we do it all. It is a good example that shows you have to promote your online products [such as electronic banking] and you need to create a digital personality. It isn’t a matter that you build it and they will come.

What is the most innovative part of the work you’ve done for Citi?
It’s the annual “Search the Citi” promotion, a two-week online scavenger hunt we do every year with the goal of increasing usage of online banking products. We started it at PGI and have refreshed the theme and creative at Sapient. We invite people to hunt around the Citibank.com Web site for pieces and give them clues about where to go. When they collect all the pieces, they get a chance to win a prize, anything from an iPod to a $5 Starbuck’s gift card. We make sure almost everyone who plays wins something. The scavenger pieces are scattered around places where the players don’t usually visit. For instance, if they usually just check their balance online, we hide pieces in the area where they can pay their bills online. It is a fun way to get customers to spend time online, look around and possibly sign up for additional services. We promote the contest in branch offices, in billing statements, and of course on our Web site. We find online marketing is a more effective and less expensive way to bring people to the contest than traditional direct mail.

What kind of results did you see?
More than 26,000 players played an average of two times. And there were more than twice as many online applications for online banking service during the two weeks of the campaign [in fall 2006], compared to the signups during the average two-week period when there was no promotion. The company seems quite pleased.