Why Sid Lee’s new CEO Vito Piazza is ready for 2021

Vito Piazza knows he’s taking a new job at Sid Lee at a remarkable moment in time, with most of the business world facing enormous change in the months ahead.

“I tell people this is the moment for the most creative and innovative businesses to shine,” said Piazza. “And to have this perspective of 2021 as a year to jump ahead.”

On Wednesday, Piazza was officially promoted from group president to CEO of the now 900-strong Montreal-based agency with offices in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Paris and London.

Bertrand Cesvet is giving up the chief executive post, but staying on as executive chairman—stepping back from day to day operations of the agency to focus on high-level strategy for clients, something that will be particularly important as brands craft a new vision for a changed world, said Piazza.

“Both existing clients and new clients, things are going to happen,” he said. “Right now they’re in a situation of ‘What do I do now?’ And [Cesvet] is excellent at [answering] that.”

In a release announcing the appointment, Cesvet said Piazza, who’s been at Sid Lee since 2003, is “one of the very few visionaries to truly combine two proven qualities that drive businesses: creativity and strategy. His track record is remarkable, and he is someone people want to work with. I am certain he will continue to cultivate and elevate Sid Lee’s creative reputation and success as our industry enters a new era.”

It was an undeniably tough year, but brands are beginning to prepare for a world that will look very different for marketers than before the crisis, said Piazza. Digital, of course, will be more important for almost every brand, and they will have to become better at storytelling, he said. “It’s about understanding how communities and culture are created and shaped and nurtured in this new reality. And how to connect brands and people in these channels.”

At the same time, said Piazza, the agency has never had so many conversations about social responsibility with clients. “Brands are going to the next step in how they connect themselves with the world’s most pressing issues… Some of them realized it’s the right thing to do, and they started before [the pandemic], and a lot of them feel its expected of them, and they have to do that now.”

Like almost all agencies, Sid Lee had to lay off some people at the worst of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. But now they’re thinking about growth in 2021. At the start of the pandemic, he told his team to focus on one key word: relationships. “We said ‘if we can come out of this with as many relationships as we went in, then we did a good job.’

“Now the word is confidence… Let’s develop that confidence with our clients to make the future—creative that makes the future.”

Part of that future growth will come from continued expansion in the U.S. The agency was significantly restructured in 2019, with new leadership and four other agency brands that were part of Sid Lee’s parent company, Kyu, integrated into Sid Lee. Without doubt they were hurt by the pandemic, he said. “But I would say you will start to see things starting to pick up again in that market for us.”

On Wednesday, Sid Lee also announced the acquisition of Denizen, an L.A.-based agency specializing in social marketing in the entertainment industry. The strengths for Sid Lee in the U.S. were entertainment marketing, helping to launch and promote entertainment properties, and social marketing, said Piazza.

“Helping brands live on social in a way that’s native to those platforms and understanding those platforms,” he said. “That’s been a great business for us and Denizen is one that excels in that and just brings us more talent and more leadership in that space.”

David Brown