Razorfish returns to Canada

Publicis Groupe Canada has relaunched Razorfish, the pioneering agency brand from the earliest days of digital marketing that was acquired by the company in 2009 and eventually folded into Sapient.

The move follows the U.S. revival of the agency brand early last year. Razorfish U.S. has since grown to about 1,000 employees across 14 offices.

Razorfish Canada will be led by Alister Adams, previously general manager and chief digital officer for Publicis Canada, and staffed by digital ad experts pulled from across Publicis Groupe’s creative agencies.

The move effectively reverses the decision to merge Sapient and Razorfish in 2016, followed by phasing out the Razorfish name a couple of years later.

“We just came to realize that there’s a real need for both brands—that Sapient does business transformation and Razorfish is still squarely in marketing,” said Publicis Groupe Canada CEO Andrew Bruce. “I just think maybe we didn’t quite understand how we needed to protect that [Razorfish] brand.”

Relaunching Razorfish is also a way to ensure high-level digital capabilities across Publicis Groupe, rather than having to continue building up digital expertise at each agency, said Bruce. “I don’t want to build multiple distinct digital capabilities inside these agencies and create all sorts of duplication, with varying degrees of success. I want to build the biggest, most successful entity that I can to support everybody.”

The new Razorfish officially launched in Canada Thursday, but its full rollout will be gradual as client work transitions to Razorfish, along with more employees from their current agency, said Adams.

It won’t be all Publicis Groupe client work or all employees, since the agencies will need to retain digital resources to service some clients—such as those in conflict with other brands Razorfish is working on. “It’s not like every single digital person will be centralized into Razorfish,” said Adams.

The goal is to create a large and fully functioning creative agency that attracts top talent—eventually including a Razorfish Canada creative director—produces the best digital marketing, and is capable of pitching for work on its own.

‘When we’re seeing standalone digital RFPs… we will go at those with Razorfish. And other times, we will go in as a collaboration with different agencies, or if it’s more of an integrated opportunity,” he said.

The impetus to revive Razorfish also stems in part from a return of more digital-only AOR pitches, which Adams said had “gone away” for a number of years. That seems particularly true of mid-sized clients who want specialists to work on their performance, social and digital advertising.

While it’s not universal, there is a perception among some marketers that creative agencies still struggle with performance advertising, said Adams.

“[There are agencies] who do amazing brand work, amazing creative work, but we hear from clients that they don’t put the same effort in when it comes to more mid-funnel, lower funnel work,” he said. “So they are seeing a need to decouple that and go back to having almost a brand agency and a performance agency.”

David Brown