Before he became one of the digital world’s most in-demand gurus, Razorfish North American creative lead Sam Cannon wrote about music on the Internet. While he found it fulfilling creatively — and received acclaim for his early integration of clips and other digital assets — the financial realities of the existing publishing model soon dawned upon him.
“I went through three different startups that didn’t end up going anywhere. I could’ve had a whole closet for the stock options that never vested,” Cannon cracks. “My son was born on the day of one of the vesting parties — which was the day the company filed for bankruptcy. I was like, ‘I need something stable.’”
Cannon’s facility within the digital realm attracted the attention of the agency world and ultimately landed him at Sapient. “Digital felt like a living organism to me. Every day was an exercise in sociology and anthropology and communication,” he recalls. “At the time, I didn’t feel like I was placing any bets. It just didn’t occur to me to go anywhere else. I wish I could say I had some amazing foresight. I’d be a much richer man.”
Cannon proved an agency and a digital natural. His watershed moment came at Organic, when he was promoted into the role of executive creative director when Colleen DeCourcy, whom he considers a mentor, left the firm. “She gave me a few words of advice. The general gist was ‘whether or not I feel like I’m ready, it’s time to step up.’”
Cannon’s experience under DeCourcy, and the self-confidence she activated and reinforced, has informed his leadership style at Razorfish. “I try to show people a side of themselves that maybe they didn’t know existed. That’s really gratifying, more than the project work or the campaigns,” he says.
Which isn’t to say that Razorfish’s work under Cannon’s lead has been anything less than revelatory. While he jokingly describes a typical day as “I get on a plane, go somewhere and do something,” Cannon’s continued deep involvement in accounts big and small has fueled the agency’s ambitions.
“If there’s a pet peeve I have with the media and creative worlds, it’s that there’s ‘for sale’ and ‘not for sale,’” he explains. “I’m more interested in what’s not for sale… The question I ask is, ‘Is this something that anybody can do, or something only we can do?’”
It goes without saying that Razorfish prizes the latter sort of creative opportunities. A great example was the agency’s “Build Your Own GLA” program on Instagram, through which it bolstered Mercedes-Benz’s appeal among would-be millennial buyers. Employing Instagram’s phototagging function in a novel manner, Razorfish created a customizable interface of sorts, allowing mobile-happy users to generate up to 132 different versions of the model.
“It wasn’t a media buy. It was exactly the kind of thing we love to do, which is take an existing platform and get it to do something it wasn’t designed to do,” Cannon says with a hint of pride in his voice. “We love working with platforms and brands that let us play this way.”