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Sid Lee Studios open, set the pace in LA and beyond


By Doug Zanger, Americas Editor

February 24, 2016 | 6 min read

For years, Sid Lee has been at the forefront of some interesting, breakthrough work. Recent examples include Absolut Nights, a chance for millennials to engage more deeply with artists and the Absolut brand; a highly-successful social experience for Assassin’s Creed; and an expansive digital experience for long-standing client Cirque de Soleil.

As a four-time “agency of the year,” the reputation of being progressive is a hallmark of Sid Lee, both internally as a culture and externally — manifested in what they achieve for their clients. In essence, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider the agency more as “makers” and less as an “agency.”

With that in mind, Sid Lee announced the launch of Sid Lee Studio, a global “maker collective” of over 100 content and event producers, creative technologists, engineers, architects and product designers. The studio will operate as specialist units within the agency's six key cities of Toronto, New York City, Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Montreal — with the home base of Montreal serving as the main hub of activity and resources within a 10,000 square foot space.

“There’s cutting-edge equipment, editing and recording rooms, a social media visual production studio, and a variety of artisans: videographers, directors, programmers, technologists, producers, motion designers, script writers, and other talents to bring our production output to a new level,” said Richard-Jean Baptiste, global head of Sid Lee Studio. “This integrated approach will provide us with the agility required by the evolution of marketing towards real-time production, without ever compromising on quality. Integrating our production disciplines within one Sid Lee unit will improve our ability to materialize our teams’ creative genius.”

The addition of Sid Lee Studio is a nod and in response to the ever-changing dynamic and structure of the agency model. San Rahi, the newly signed head of development, acknowledged that that is partly the case, but that there are other marketing and industry forces at work.

“What’s interesting right now is that I continue to have conversations with senior marketers who are going through a recalibration of KPIs,” said Rahi. “They know how to solve marketing problems, but they’re really saying ‘how do I know what I should be measuring?’”

But what is most interesting is that Rahi and, by extension, Sid Lee Studio, aren’t necessarily coming to their brands with an “a-ha” moment and extreme clarity on how to tackle the necessities of performance. In keeping with the idea of “making” and “collaboration,” Rahi noted that it is largely a journey, where both brands and Sid Lee can come together, leveraging their unique expertise.

“In a sense, it’s almost an experimental act (in working together),” Rahi noted. “We have to go in there together, knowing that there isn’t an answer yet — that we’re going to have to uncover some things and try things that may not be right at first. That process has to be rigorous to get to the right answers. It’s more about ‘can you help me figure out what exactly I should be trying to figure out?’”

Rahi is quick to point out that Sid Lee isn’t creating two agencies, but rather articulating a new way of working within the same overall culture that affords exploration and breathing room.

“This (Sid Lee Studio) is about allowing more proactive and agile relationships with clients,” said Rahi. “On one hand, yes, they need the support of what the ‘traditional’ agency does — in thinking about the business problem. But, on the other hand, I think they also need someone to come to them with new ideas, or new technologies and say, ‘I was thinking about your challenges and we’re working on something that could be useful in solving that problem.’”

Each city will offer its own brand of contribution to the effort — including technology, product and architectural spatial design — but Los Angeles represents an interesting opportunity for more immediate growth. And it’s in large part due to the transformation of Los Angeles becoming more of an industry creative hub than ever before.

“I think that LA is the one market that understands, better than any other market, how an architect or technologist, software engineer and filmmaker can get around a table and work seamlessly together,” said Rahi. “If you take the film world, for example, they’re all making films, but there are different trades integrating their tools, metrics and the like — and they all have a common thing to make.”

Anecdotally, Los Angeles continues to emerge and is sometimes considered more “creative” than their counterparts in other parts of the United States. Rahi noticed that this has a positive effect for not just their business, but the LA-area industry in general.

“I wonder if it’s more about LA being more recognized as a stronger hub of talent,” mused Rahi. “Google was a great example of how they put their toe in the water and then made a big move down to LA. I would resist the notion that all of the talent is coming in because of Google — but I would suggest that there’s always been a lot of talent there that has been associated with just one product or industry — entertainment.”

This dispersal of a strong talent bubble through industries other than just entertainment is enticing, and Rahi sees this as the penultimate opportunity.

“It makes sense that there are lots of interesting shops popping up in LA. The lines are being blurred and we’re seeing the best of this culture being pulled in to create something special,” said Rahi.

It is, most certainly, an opportunity for Sid Lee Studio to thrive with this new talent in sun-drenched Southern California but inspiration will still come from “The City of Saints.”

“We’re excited about what each of our cities can accomplish together," he said.

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