Sid Lee to Consolidate U.S. Creative Operations in L.A., Offer Transfers to New York Staff

By Patrick Coffee 

Today Sid Lee, the formerly independent agency acquired in 2015 by Japan’s Hakuhodo DY Holdings, confirmed that it will be shifting its U.S.-based creative operations from New York to Los Angeles and moving most staff to the West Coast as well.

According to the parties who reached out to us, the news arrived this morning in the form of an in-person announcement from chairman Jean-François Bouchard, who spoke of plans to “amalgamate” in California.

“The L.A. office will become Sid Lee’s main hub in the US as we will be closer to both our clients and to an incredibly rich pool of talented women and men who, like us, seek to build brands for the modern age,” an agency spokesperson wrote today. “The majority of our current New York talent pool has been offered to relocate to Southern California before the end the year.”

The New York office will not be closing, however.

“The role of Sid Lee in New York will evolve,” the rep continued. “With kyu committed to fully rolling out its LABS, we will strengthen our partnership with SYPartners, IDEO and other member companies. We feel that Sid Lee will best evolve in New York within the kyu Collective.”

Kyu Collective is the New York-based strategic operating unit of Hakuhodo DY Holdings. It currently includes several creative businesses like the organizations mentioned above as well as consultancy BEworks, design firm Red Peak and creative agency Digital Kitchen (which recently promoted veteran Anthony Vitagliano to president and CCO).

Sid Lee L.A. opened in early 2015 before the acquisition went down, but ended up hiring its first creative leads earlier this year to work on the agency’s two biggest American accounts, The North Face and Netflix.

The spokesperson did confirm that a restructuring had led to a “few layoffs” in recent weeks but clarified that the core teams in each office remained intact. He then added that “most” New York staffers have been asked to relocate.

A couple of team leaders will depart. U.S. executive chairman and global head growth officer Will Travis, who played a key role in the West Coast move, is staying in New York and “exploring other options outside as well as within” kyu. Founding partner Lukas Derksen will also be leaving the Sid Lee organization according to a subsequent all-staff email sent by Montreal-based CEO Bertrand Cesvet.

That email read, “Will Travis and Lukas Derksen will not be part of this next iteration of Sid Lee and, after helping through a short transition, will leave the agency.”

It’s unclear exactly how many people will be affected by today’s change or how many were let go in the aforementioned restructuring. The company’s LinkedIn page currently lists total staff across France, the U.S. and Canada at 600, but we don’t know when that number was last updated.

Last August, Sid Lee Amsterdam closed as the network consolidated its European operations in Paris. Multiple employees who worked there at the time told us that they received transfer offers that did not ultimately materialize.

One party who alerted us to the change this week said that there has been some uncertainty among New York employees due to that earlier move, but the agency spokesperson noted that international transfers are not comparable to cross-country moves.

Sid Lee has certainly been active in the U.S. in recent months. August’s “Walls Are Meant for Climbing” North Face campaign barely disguised its political messaging, and a trippy “Posters for Peace” effort by Sid Lee Collective and MASSIVart came in response to the violence in Charlottesville this summer. The shop also helped Hennessy launch its first tequila brand, Volcan De Mi Tierra, last month.

In June, Mimi St. Gelais, who formerly led the Samsung account at Wieden+Kennedy, became Sid Lee’s head of U.S. client leadership.

According to the parties who alerted us to the news today, the consolidation comes due to a lack of new business in New York. The spokesperson did not elaborate on the reasons for the move.