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Five minutes with Dani Bassil, UK CEO, Digitas

09 Oct 2020  |  Mike Fletcher 
Five minutes with Dani Bassil, UK CEO, Digitas

Bassil explains what it was like to be on maternity leave during lockdown, why brands are finding themselves in a state of 'disconnection', and whether Digitas is still on track to complete its 5 year strategy

It’s been two years now since you were promoted from chief operating officer to CEO at Digitas UK, one of the five Publicis Media agencies. How has the agency changed during this time, especially around its response to the UK lockdown?

Digitas has changed quite a bit in this time. We’ve integrated the UK operation, we’ve solidified our proposition as the Connected Experience Agency, and we’ve grown. It’s been quite a journey and we’ve had a lot of fun along the way.

As a digital agency we’ve been well placed to help our clients navigate the new normal. Never before has a client's digital estate and ecosystem been more important for them, to not only understand their customers, but also to reach them with simplicity and ease.

We’ve adapted pretty well to lockdown. As a business born and bred in digital, we’ve always had a flexible working model and robust digital platforms to be able to work remotely. We have tech capability around the globe so working together but not being physically together is more the norm for us. Although this is obviously an extreme version, even for us.

How have you personally had to adapt to the Covid crisis and lockdown?

I was actually on maternity leave when lockdown happened. I think mums (and dads) can feel quite isolated during maternity or paternity anyway, so adding an actual isolation on to that was pretty hard some days. It did mean that my husband was home, which was brilliantly helpful, but it was hard not seeing friends and family for 4 months.

Coming out of it was magic and coming back to work was a joy, frankly. For me work is not only mentally stimulating, but some of my colleagues are friends for life and I missed them too.

Digitas believes in the concept of Total Brand Experience. How does this differ from experiential and what role does live have alongside digital in bringing a brand to life in the current climate?

Total Brand Experience is our future proof model for customer experience, and an as-yet-untapped source of growth for forward-thinking brands. As the name suggests, it’s about blending data, tech, strategy, creative and media thinking to deliver a coherent, end-to-end customer experience that brings the brand to life across all touchpoints, on or off-line.

Experiential is an important way to activate a brand experience but is just one way. The smart brands (especially given the current climate) are the ones fluidly connecting the experience across digital and live channels, recognising that customers don’t think in silos, so neither should brands.

We have a saying in the agency - ‘connected experiences need connected organisations’ – and, our Experience Consulting team works with a lot of brands to help them break down their internal channel silos and think horizontally across the customer journey, blending real world and digital channels for greater impact.

Why do brands find themselves in a state of ‘disconnection’?

Brands run by large corporates typically have large marketing and technology operations which organise themselves by channel. This way of organising a department made sense when channels were few, but with technological advances, channel proliferation has led to a siloed approach.

Throw in competing agendas across the C-suite and under-investment in data and tech infrastructure, and the result is that the customer experience is often highly disconnected, lacking any coherence. The impact? Brands are struggling to connect with their customers, as evidenced by some research we commissioned last year.

The inconvenient truth is that customers don’t care about the silos or systems within the brand organisation. To them, the brand is the product is the experience. So we need to create experiences that are truly coherent, useful and memorable, thereby strengthening the connection brands have with their customers.

How important is ‘agility’ in not only your personal role but also the role of the agency?

We’ve always worked agile. As a digital business we believe it’s the only real way to effectively prioritise and get to the best work in the simplest way. Most of our clients now also work in this way so helping bring them along on the journey has been great.

What I love about agile is that all roles are equal. It’s a truly democratic way to get work done, and it gives you the ability to flex and move quickly when you need to. If I didn’t work in this way nothing would ever get done, and I’m about getting things done.

Business is never linear, so being able to adapt quickly is the only way to sustain, win and grow any organisation, especially one that is equally creative and technology led.

I read in 2019 that you were focused on building out a five-year strategy for growth. How has that been impacted in 2020 and what are your new KPIs for success?

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a tough year, but we’ve weathered it well. We are still on track to deliver our strategy despite the bump in the road, and it seems that things have started to ramp back up much quicker than I ever expected.

When you physically cannot interact with your customer, how you communicate and engage with them online is critical. That’s been our focus with our clients during lockdown and we are continuing to build on that coming out of it. 2021 is shaping up to be a great year.

Which campaigns have impressed you lately?

A blatant plug here, but our recent work for Oreo has been absolutely brilliant. Great brand, great cookie (controversial I know), great clients, amazing team.

What is your biggest hope for the future of the media and advertising industry?

That we finally crack the diversity and inclusion issue. Our strategy at Digitas is to ensure we create a culture of equality for everyone. #MeToo and BLM have meant that we have made some real progress, but it’s not enough.

We keep striving to do better at Digitas and it’s my personal goal to continue to push the agenda. It’s critical for our staff, clients and the industry as a whole to get it right.

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