Q+A: Aaron Shapiro, CEO, Huge
Aaron Shapiro wants to take over the world - a tall order, sure, but slightly more realistic now that he's been named CEO of Interpublic-backed Huge (he was previously responsible for strategic leadership). Bolstered by top-notch work for Pepsi, Target and JetBlue, the Brooklyn-based digital agency has exploded from 10 to 300 employees since 2005, and is now expanding globally with new offices in London and Stockholm; planned offices in Brazil, China, Singapore, and Japan; and, if Shapiro likes, the Middle East and India.
Now that Huge is, well, huge, how has the agency's approach to new and existing business changed? We help companies build digitally-driven businesses with strong strategy, user-centric design and interactive marketing that meet client business objectives. Our core approach hasn't changed in that regard, but we've broadened our capabilities and areas of expertise to serve clients that are progressively more focused on digital as a central part of their business. For example, we've invested heavily in growing our emerging media and mobile practices, so that we can give clients like Reuters a multi-touchpoint experience that meets all of their users' expectations, and their business needs.
Why is global the way to go, and how exactly does Huge plan to realize its goal of becoming a truly global agency?
As an agency, we've always done very global work - for example, IKEA was our first client, and our work was designing a single IKEA.com for 34 markets worldwide. What's different now from when we started is that today, all business is international - literally every one of our clients is having a conversation with us about digital marketing and e-business around the world. For some, digital is the first time they're selling internationally in a real way.
It's about talent as well - New York has some of the best digital talent in the world, but there are many other hubs for digital excellence, and we want to attract the best from those markets as well. We think the best approach to building a global agency in today's environment is to create incredible offices in key markets around the world that provide coverage of a region from the perspective of managing local clients and attracting star employees.
Explain the rationale behind establishing regional hubs around the world, and what you plan to achieve with that strategy.
Let me give you an example: Singapore. It's an international city with immigrants from all over the world; it's the home of many regional headquarters for global companies; and the talent pool is strong. And almost every language spoken in Asia-Pacific is represented by native speakers in the professional talent pool in Singapore. There's no reason we can't service most of Asia from that one market; there's no reason for people specifically located in Vietnam, for example. Instead, we're deploying global solutions for clients into Asia, where the localized customization work can happen in Singapore for all markets in the region.... We want to apply this model for every major region of the world: Rio de Janeiro for Latin America, etc.
Describe the global campaign of your dreams.
I think the work we're doing with Pepsi, The Pepsi Refresh Project, is a perfect example of the future of global campaigns. It's very social, it's multichannel, and it's about a big idea that makes the brand real in the digital space. And it's something that can be universally applied around the world - and that's already happening in 2011, when The Pepsi Refresh Project is going global. More and more, we're seeing brands think about scalable initiatives that are universal in nature and can be readily adapted to markets around the world.
What's the greatest challenge facing Huge?
Our biggest challenge, and what I constantly think about, is how to push the quality of the work. In the end, we're only as good as the last digital initiative we've launched for clients. If our work is strong, everything else falls into place. So we all place a lot of emphasis on delivering great results for clients, fostering an environment that funnels innovative projects, and attracting stellar talent to do the best work of their careers.