The New Tech Heads

What’s the best way to marry content and code? For general agencies that question is being answered by digital technologists, an increasingly critical interdisciplinary position that helps shops create compelling digital experiences for clients. These experts, who come from disciplines including programming, strategy and production, have the digital agility necessary for today’s fast-paced times. “We’re in a period of transition where more and more people are discovering the need for this role,” says Chick Foxgrover, CIO at the 4A’s and principal at Web content strategy firm Foxpath IND in New York. “It’s about taking a more holistic view of what it means to create for media.” Here, a look at four senior agency talents who are redefining creativity in the digital age.

Scott Prindle  > Executive creative technology director > Crispin Porter + Bogusky

“Technology fuels great ideas,” says Rob Reilly, co-ecd at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. “It’s critical for agencies like us.” The MDC Partners agency has been at the forefront of digital creativity ever since “Subservient Chicken” put on its garters for Burger King in 2005. Back then, the agency was just beginning to build its in-house digital resources and, after winning the Volkswagen account late that year, it turned to Scott Prindle, a technical director at R/GA, to help oversee its digital future. The economics grad from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who received his early Web training at the U.S. Department of Commerce, says, “I liked bringing digital and technology capabilities into what was then more of a traditional creative environment. Alex [Bogusky] and I agreed that technology is a creative discipline.” The agency is now armed with 50 technologists who are an integral part of the creative process, says Prindle, 39, who joined R/GA as a programmer in 1996. There, Prindle ran the technology side of the Nike and Nokia accounts. During his CP+B tenure, he’s seen the emphasis on talent shift from the visual — e.g., Flash designers needed to produce microsites and banner ads — to programming. “Someone … who has a solid grounding in IT, is comfortable working across a number of technologies and is a good problem solver is the ideal candidate now,” he says. Reilly notes that the tech capabilities allow for greater creative experimentation and allows them to comp ideas in real time, an instrumental tool in selling ideas such as the recent Facebook facial-profiler app for Coke Zero or the mobile app for BK that gives users entry into the King’s cell phone. “Having Scott here,” he says, “allows us to control our destiny.”

Chris Kief  > Creative technology director > TBWA\Chiat\Day

Chris Kief, 32, a self-described “jack of all trades,” is about six months into his job at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, where he straddles all disciplines and departments. Reporting to CCO Mark Figliulo, the University of Southern California graduate is working on brands such as Jameson, Michelin, GSK and Absolut. The shop’s Web site for the vodka features Kate Beckinsale, Zooey Deschanel, photography and video demos. Kief came to TBWA via Crispin Porter + Bogusky, where he was an interactive technical director. At Crispin, he says, he learned the value of “having your developers feel free to … fool around a bit because you never know what’s going to come out of it.” Prior to that shop, he co-founded digital shop Mindflood. (In 2007, acquisition discussions with MDC Partners led him to Crispin.) While he says his workload has, in the past, been 70 percent “clean-up” to get projects back on executable courses, “it’s getting better; agencies and clients realize how much planning [is needed for] an interactive production.”

Richard Schatzberger > Director of creative technology > Bartle Bogle Hegarty

“Richard lives technology. It’s like an extension of his arm,” says Kevin Roddy, CCO at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York. Whether it’s helping to produce Axe’s award-winning “100 girls,” Google’s push for its Chrome browser, or, which tracks the first lady’s fashions, Schatzberger, 32, has tackled his role, the first of its kind for the shop, with enthusiasm and little ego. He’s broadened BBH’s output, says Roddy, and has “helped us work differently. He’s less of ‘this is mine,’ than ‘this is ours.'” The former principal experience strategist at Motorola, who conceived and designed the Motofone, Schatzberger — a Brit who studied electronic media design at Staffordshire University-spent the late ’90s at shops including DeepEnd and Sapient. He left Motorola to be closer to the consumer end of things, becoming head of creative strategy at Poke before joining BBH in 2008. His job, he says, is to develop ways to solve problems and create new opportunities for consumers. Innovation and development are a part of this, he adds, but “the whole process starts again when it goes into the hands of marketing and advertising. They’re the people that get closer to the user.”

Gareth Kay > Director of digital strategy > Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Gareth Kay, 36, has spent most of his career as a traditional planner, including six years at Boston’s Modernista! as head of planning, before joining Goodby last July. “I’ve been increasingly interested in … how [the digital space] is changing culture, behavior and the way brands need to communicate,” says Kay. His job, he adds, is to find “the real opportunities [and] to make sure the ideas are executable.” Deliberating how to take Diamond Foods’ Pop Secret online, the agency decided that instead of a Web site that explores the Kernels — the animated characters in the TV campaign — it should communicate the brand’s movie-night positioning. “What can we do to make movie nights at home better?” was the question Kay posed to the creative team. The site was recently launched with movie-matching function powered by Jinni, which makes film selections based on such things as occasion and mood. “We wanted to create a useful tool,” says Kay, a philosophy and economics graduate from Oxford University, who began his agency career in London at shops such as TBWA, dfgw and Lowe. For the last six years, Kay  has been sharing his views on his blog “Brand New.” If you aren’t using technology, he asks, “how can you offer counsel or advice?”