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Jan 31 2011

The Miami Herald "Business Monday" - A Culture of Creativity


South Florida is the creative hub for the global interactive advertising agency SapientNitro, which boasts clients including Coca-Cola and Foot Locker.

By Bridget Carey

A vending machine that scans your smile. An app that unveils a car’s history with one snapshot. A sneaker store with a shoe-trading database.

The global interactive marketing and technology consulting agency SapientNitro has created some of the most buzz-grabbing tactics in the industry. And though it works with parent company Sapient’s other 30-plus offices worldwide, the Miami Beach hub is the agency’s creative core.

The two-story office on Lincoln Road that previously belonged to Sony is where Worldwide Creative Officer Gaston Legorburu manages a group of “cultural junkie geniuses” — tech-savvy employees with an eye for advertising.

His team has crafted campaigns for international brands including Unilever, Auto Trader, Foot Locker, Coca-Cola, Jeep, Yahoo! and Healthy Choice. It recently created the website for the New World Symphony orchestral academy in Miami Beach.


In this age of social media and smartphone addiction, nearly every advertising firm is chasing workers conversant in both technology and creativity. SapientNitro is uniquely positioned to ride the digital wave: It started as a technology services company. The advertising part came later.

“Everyone is trying to be digital,” said Sean Corcoran, senior analyst for interactive marketing at Forrester Research. Winning what he calls the “great race for relevance” requires shrewd programming, social media and analytics skills — a tough task, sometimes, for traditional advertising firms accustomed to focusing on print and broadcast.

“A lot of people are looking for the technology side,” Corcoran said. “I think Sapient has that covered really well.”

SapientNitro also creates traditional advertising on television and in print. But it is perhaps best known for flexing its programming muscles, as it showed in 2010 with these campaigns:

• A vending machine that dispenses Unilever-brand ice cream when the camera inside detects a smile. It’s similar to software used in many point-and-shoot cameras today.

• Foot Locker’s, a database of sneakers for collectors (known as sneakerheads) to use for research and trading. SapientNitro is currently in talks aimed at creating a television show around the sneaker fandom culture.

• Auto Trader’s iPhone app for the UK, where users take a photo of a vehicle plate number to look up the vehicle’s history. The app was so popular that it overloaded the servers and had to be temporarily shut down until Auto Trader upgraded to handle the demand.

• Coca-Cola vending machines that use a large touch screen for ordering, allowing users to flick their finger and spin the bottle image to read nutrition facts. The machines are being deployed into Simon Malls nationwide.

So how did a global ad agency with headquarters in Boston end up with a creative base in Miami Beach? Legorburu was head of his own agency in South Florida, Planning Group International, which was acquired by Sapient in 2006. Legorburu’s job at Sapient’s South Florida offices evolved from senior vice present to worldwide creative officer. In 2009, Sapient paid $50 million to buy up the New York-based marketing agency Nitro Group — hence the joint name.

Along with its Lincoln Road quarters, SapientNitro has offices in Palmetto Bay and another near The Falls in south Miami-Dade.

In August, Florida Trend magazine named it one of the best companies to work for. And parent company Sapient appeared on Fortune’s 100 Fastest Growing Companies list, ranking No. 2 for profit growth and 45th overall.


Sapient said in its most recent earnings report that SapientNitro’s revenues grew 30 percent from the previous year; its business analytics and commerce technology division, Sapient Global Markets, reported growth of 33 percent. It also owns Sapient Government Services, specializing in consulting, technology and marketing to governmental agencies.

Fourth-quarter revenues ending Dec. 31 were predicted to be between $219 million to $224 million, the company reported. Revenues from the third quarter of 2010 grew 32 percent compared to 2009. Overall, the company hires about 1,000 workers per quarter, with 20 to 30 new employees each quarter in South Florida, Legorburu said, for a total of 420 locally. Some of those came from South Florida’s other large agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Coral Gables, which markets Burger King and Microsoft.

The two firms often end up hiring from the other’s talent pool, said Legorburu. “It’s always been very incestuous,” he said. “It just works out that way.”


The SapientNitro office breeds a relaxed culture aimed at welcoming tech innovators and juicy minds. Employees are allowed to come in late and work through the night, or work with their pets on their lap. The modern office space has teams working on laptops across long tables, without the division that comes with typical cubicals. Meetings are held in rooms with pop-culture names like Death Star and Sleepy Hollow.

“Miami is a bit of a well-kept secret in terms of getting junior talent,” Legorburu said. “As far as getting Flash developers and creatives, being on South Beach is not bad.”

To keep a creative edge, Legorburu says the firm often hires staffers that don’t have a background in traditional advertising but bring expertise in video production or movie script writing. But staying on top of technology is the firm’s most important focus.

“Devices, how you communicate, how you date, how you shop — all these things are constantly changing. That’s probably the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity that our clients face,” Legorburu said. “A lot of times, it’s almost like being Tarzan, letting go of one vine to grab the other.” The economy encourages a bit of swinging, as clients look to focus their advertising dollars on one or two key digital projects, rather than spread throughout 20 different mediums.


A recent Forrester interactive marketing report predicted that mobile and social advertising budgets will increase the most this year, giving more money to innovation than any time in the past three years. In a survey, 43 percent of marketers said that their 2011 interactive budgets would increase, compared with only six percent predicting a decrease.

“When you get into a conversation about what’s important, well, the future’s kind of important,” Legorburu said.

But digital media — that future, so to speak — doesn’t come cheap. Analyst Corcoran says the big question interactive agencies will face is how to make enough profit to sustain that tech talent. “Everything is changing so fast all the time that it’s hard to be a specialist and expert all the time,” Corcoran said.



Global Creative Headquarters: Miami Beach

Ownership: A division of Sapient, publicly traded on NASDAQ exchange under the symbol SAPE, with a market capitalization of $1.7 billion

Employees: About 420 in South Florida, more than 8,000 worldwide in 32 Sapient offices

Founded: 1990. Sapient began its interactive marketing practice after acquiring Miami-based interactive firm PGI in 2006. It became SapientNitro after acquiring New York global marketing firm Nitro Group in 2009.

Specializes in: Interactive marketing and technology consulting

Also engaged in: Traditional advertising

Other Sapient divisions: Sapient Global Markets, Sapient Government Services

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Media Contacts

  • For Sapient and SapientNitro inquiries, please contact:

  • Stacy Simpson

    Chief Communications Officer



    For Sapient Global Markets inquries, please contact:

  • Geoff Whitehouse

    +44 (0) 207 456 6550