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Dec 21 2012

The Boston Business Journal - Ad Shop Soars After 2009 Acquisition


Ad shop SapientNitro soars after 2009 acquisition

By Lisa van der Pool

After years of helping companies create digital ads, Boston IT firm Sapient (Nasdaq: SAPE) plugged into the traditional marketing world in 2009 with its acquisition of ad agency Nitro Group in New York.

That deal has helped propel job growth in Boston during the past three years, with the number of full-time Sapient employees in the city growing to 525 today from 300 at the end of 2009.

The company’s SapientNitro division, created by the merging of creative staff at both Sapient and Nitro, is now based in Boston and accounts for 70 percent of its revenue.

“Our larger aspiration has always been to be the brand steward for our clients,” said Chris Davey, senior vice president at SapientNitro. “And to be the brand steward, we needed to own the larger, traditional media spend.”

SapientNitro’s move to add traditional capabilities — such as television, print and radio advertising — is a reversal from what traditional agencies have spent the past five few years doing: scrambling to add digital capabilities and demonstrate their technical savvy.

SapientNitro officials decided several years ago that simply existing as a digital agency was too limiting, so they plotted a course to become a major ad player, whether the client wants to communicate online, in social media or through TV or print media.

That 2009 push started with the Nitro acquisition, which was quickly followed by several key hires, including Matt Lindley, as director of innovation and Barry Fiske as vice president and executive creative director at SapientNitro. Both have traditional and digital backgrounds. Lindley had served as executive creative director in digital at Boston-based Arnold Worldwide and worked at Modernista for several years. Fiske previously served as a group creative director at DDB in Los Angeles.

Sapient was originally founded in Cambridge in 1990 as an IT consulting firm, but began to handle Web design and more creative digital duties during the mid-1990s.

SapientNitro continues to attract top talent from the traditional agency world, including Alan Pafenbach, a veteran Boston ad executive who made his reputation as the executive creative director for Volkswagen’s award winning “Drivers Wanted,” campaign, which won numerous industry awards. Another prominent hire came this past summer, when SapientNitro hired Gary Koepke, co-founder of the now-shuttered Modernista, about 15 months after he closed that agency.

Today, Sapient Corp. has 10,000 employees, including 7,000 SapientNitro staffers and 31 SapientNitro offices globally. There are a total of roughly 520 staffers in Sapient’s Boston office, including 400 SapientNitro workers.

Boston-area SapientNitro clients include Bertucci’s, Staples and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Sapient Corp. has already passed $1 billion in revenue in 2012, making this year the first time the firm has cleared that benchmark. SapientNitro represents about 70 percent of that revenue.

Judy Neer, CEO of the Boston advertising consultancy Pile and Co., has watched SapientNitro’s profile grow in Boston’s advertising community and nationally during the past few years. Just recently, her firm ran the Bertucci’s pitch, which SapientNitro won.

“Since they bought Nitro, they have expanded into a more full-service agency,” Neer said. “My take is that they have strong digital at their core, but they are now able to pull in other channels from a creative perspective.”

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