Parent gave us Feed for thought

Andy Chambers and Daljit Singh explain why Digit chose to give up its independent status to do a deal with the mighty WPP

Digit has been around for nearly ten years now and we’ve faced all the ups and downs that have epitomised the ever-evolving digital sector.

Founded upon a truly independent manifesto (Rage Against the International Business Machine – IBM to you and me), the decision to hook up with the mighty WPP last year was a momentous one for many reasons.

Over the past decade Digit had attracted many suitors both pre and post the dotcom boom/bust, so we felt we had experienced all the highs and lows that the promises of instant wealth and its equally abrupt removal can bring.

Throughout it all we craved two or three key things: continuing creative innovation, new challenges and a desire to build something enduring – a brand? So when exploratory talks began with WPP we felt we knew what we wanted, knew what to avoid and what we could bring to its table that would differentiate Digit within the group.

Those early negotiations and the final contractual processes are a story in itself. But the development in the first year has been most enlightening. Digit isn’t a Grey nor a Cordiant, so it is fair to say we’ve quietly taken our place in the group while these bigger fish were tackled. The nice thing was being made to feel as important as them by the people we dealt with.

WPP has a tried-and-tested formula for selecting, assessing and closing deals, and we were put through the same hoops as the big guns. Diligence (that is the vetting, checking and validation of your business) was cleverly structured to be a two-way thing and we were urged to meet with all the senior executives, quiz them and satisfy ourselves as to the nature of the (WPP) beast.

The business, finance and legal aspects were given appropriate weight; we felt that Digit was being valued as much for its brand, clients and culture as its profit and loss situation (which, in the grand scheme of a $10 billion group, is a good thing.)

So what’s it been like? Our divisional team has been very supportive; Rob Norman and Nigel Seddon at GroupM understand our value proposition and we’ve been introduced to well qualified business opportunities. The wider WPP group has embraced Digit and involved us in globally renowned brand engagements.

It’s helped elevate our long term research and development philosophy, Feed, to become a key part of how we express and enrich our work within client engagements. This has reassured us that our creative value is understood and adds direct value to WPP engagements, which by their nature are more wide ranging in scope and global impact.

Working with them has raised the bar and forced us to re-examine everything we do to improve professionalism, innovation, presentation and to follow-up on cross-group opportunities as they arise.

Having spent time working with the big corporate agencies, we had to bite the bullet and improve our underlying foundations, so we took an early decision to embrace best financial practice and redefine our technology infrastructure by adopting WPP’s standards.

It definitely ran counter to our culture to do this and our recent relocation to Spitalfields (Hoxton, apparently, is tired and exhausted – poor thing) has had teething problems, but we can now honestly tell our clients that all their valuable work is securely backed up at all times and that we have fully documented practices that mean they can count on us. Boring, but vital.

WPP’s reach is extraordinary and it has pushed us to firm up plans to cover our key global clients across three major geographies: US, Europe and the Far East. Already we’ve secured space in China and will shortly add New York City as a new base to get us into the other key time zone. We could never have considered this as an independent, having seen some of our digital compatriots try to do this during the dotcom honeymoon period and lose their shirts in the process.

While we had previously worked with three or four WPP agencies over time, we weren’t prepared for the welcome we got once we’d joined and the steady stream of good quality briefs, meetings and actual work. At the last count we’ve met with nearly 20 WPP brands and worked closely with more than half of them. Amazing!

Because of earlier merger and acquisition experiences, we set realistic expectations and all have been met or surpassed. When we got the call from Sir Martin Sorrell to welcome us to the group we realised that, though the stakes were now higher, we also had friends in high places to help us move Digit forwards not back into the next decade.

Digit history

• founded 1995 by Daljit Singh and Andy Chambers of IBM

• acquired by Meta Source Group of the US in 2002

• bought themselves back in June 2003 when promised funding did not materialise

• 51 per cent acquired by WPP in Summer 2004

• now sits inside the Mediaedge CIA network

• planning offices in China and New York

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