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Aug 17 2012

Atlanta Business Journal - Boston's Sapient beefing up its Atlanta operations


A Boston-based technology services company is beefing up its Atlanta presence to meet Corporate America’s insatiable desire to market to digitally savvy consumers.

By Urvaksh Karkaria

Sapient Corp. (Nasdaq: SAPE) plans to add up to 150 jobs over the next few years — a move that could nearly double the company’s local work force, sources said.

A Sapient spokesman declined to confirm the job numbers, but said the company is “planning for continued growth.” A key contributor is growing demand for mobile services.

The number of dollars spent on mobile advertising is dwarfed by the amount of time people spend on the devices, said Bob Van Beber, chief of Sapient’s Atlanta office.

“It tells you what a big opportunity there still is to capitalize on mobile as a marketing channel,” Van Beber said. “That really factors into the hot demand in our Atlanta office right now.“

Sapient has more than 35 offices in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. The Atlanta operation, which employs about 175, is Sapient’s Southeast hub.

Atlanta is home to the SapientNitro business — the company’s digital marketing arm. The office works with large companies such as The Coca-Cola Co. and The Home Depot Inc. on digital marketing strategies; websites and mobile application development; and e-commerce and search engine optimization services.

Sapient declined to disclose the Atlanta operation’s revenue, but noted that the overall company’s 2011 services revenue grew nearly 25 percent over the previous year.

“We are consistent with the overall company growth, if not outpacing that some, based on the fact that we focus on marketing services, which is one of our hottest areas company wide,” Van Beber said.

Atlanta is also Sapient’s Mobile Center of Excellence — focused on designing and developing mobile and digital merchandising experiences across mobile Web, Apple’s iPad and iPhone, and Google’s Android mobile platform.

Sapient is one of the top interactive agencies — both in size and sophistication, said Daniel Backhaus, an Atlanta-based digital marketing executive.

Sapient is especially strong in developing enterprise websites that require integration with back end billing, or e-commerce systems, said Backhaus, a vice president at Infuz Inc., a digital marketing firm.

Sapient’s expansion reflects a growing digital media cluster in Atlanta. Local digital media companies have made headlines in recent months.

In May, Oracle Corp. said it would acquire Vitrue Inc., a Facebook-focused social media marketing firm.

Gannett Co., meanwhile, is said to be acquiring BLiNQ Media, a media and technology company that helps companies advertise and engage with consumers on Facebook and other social networks.

A young work force, low cost of living, and abundant tech talent is driving digital media companies to locate and expand in the area, Backhaus said.

“In the Valley, or New York, it’s almost impossible to find engineering talent and then to hold them,” he said. “You have huge turnover.”

Mobile work force

With its educational infrastructure and growing cluster of Fortune 500 companies, Atlanta can support and grow digital marketing companies, Van Beber said.

“There are a lot of clients in the region ... that would like to be served locally,” he said, “that don’t feel like they have to go to New York in order to get someone that speaks digital marketing and advertising.”

Mobile devices have become a critical marketing channel for every company.

As consumers spend more time online and on smartphones, companies see the need to move their marketing to those platforms.

“Mobile marketing is like having a website in 1998 — it’s become part of every conversation we’re having,” Van Beber said. “As we grow both our client base and the mobile business, we continue to put a lot of emphasis on growing Atlanta.”

The percentage of online advertising increased from 5.9 percent in 2007 to 9.4 percent in 2011, according to IBISWorld. The Los Angeles-based research firm forecasts online advertising to increase to 11.5 percent by 2017.

U.S. mobile ad spending, meanwhile, will increase about 40 percent annually to about $12.4 billion in the next five years, IBISWorld analyst Kevin Culbert said.

“Mobile marketing is an emerging industry and you’re going to see a ton of growth over the next five years,” Culbert said. “Mobile anything is going to get big.”

Mobile-centric technologies, such as QR codes and location-based services, allow consumers to interact with retailers and brands in new ways.

In the past five years, mobile Internet connections have increased 57.6 percent annually in the U.S., Culbert said, noting smartphone prices have plummeted, driving mobile adoption.

That’s creating a much bigger target audience for the kind of mobile marketing that Sapient works toward, he said.

The growth potential has made the digital and mobile marketing industry very crowded. Sapient faces competition from multinational, integrated advertising agencies, and mom-and-pop digital marketers, Culbert said.

“Sapient is in the middle of the fray,” he said. “The competition is really going to be pretty intense.”

Buckhead bound

Sapient’s Atlanta operations began their foray into “second screens” about six years ago, when the company worked on designing the next-generation Coke machines that debuted at the Beijing Olympics.

“We started a lot of the work with Coke before the mobile craze,” Van Beber said. “We found it was very difficult to find mobile developers and designers.”

The company tapped Georgia Tech’s mobile development and human computer interface design programs to recruit young designers and developers.

To keep pace with the work-force growth, Sapient is now relocating to roomier — and cooler — digs.

In September, the company will relocate from the Central Perimeter business district to 3630 Peachtree, a 34-story mixed-use tower in tony Buckhead.

The relocation is an effort to raise the profile of Sapient among the young “creatives” the company needs to recruit.

Moving into a relatively new building also allows Sapient to design its office from the ground up.

“This floor has never been occupied,” Van Beber said. “We could turn our creative department and architecture partners loose with a fresh palette knowing how we want to represent the brand, [and] how we work.”

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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