As our clients’ needs evolve, so do we. Over the years, we’ve found that growing organically and strategically are the best way for us to keep pace. To that end, we announced back in September that we had acquired leading communications consultancy, Pure Communications.  Then last month, we shared the news that we were bringing the expert research and social listening firm, Marketeching, into the fold. Today, we are excited to let you know that today we have acquired digital-first marketing communications firm, Sentient Interactive.

While a press release is always an important formality when putting out news, some of the details that add to the context and color of the story get left behind. As such, we often create accompanying blog posts like this interview with co-founder and current president of Sentient Interactive, Adam Cossman. The interview gives a little more background on Sentient, how it started along with some of its areas of expertise. Equally important is the fact that Adam will now be W2O Group’s Chief Digital Officer.

With that as background, let’s jump right into the questions:

Aaron: There is a famous saying that understanding the past is the key to the future.  To that end, tell us a little about how you and your co-founders came to found Sentient.

Adam: Back in 2008, I was just coming off of a short stint at Revolution Health (now after having built and run two other successful digital agencies (Temel, Inc. now part of Zeta and Ignite Health’s east coast office, now part of Palio).  It was a beautiful morning in mid-August and I had just had one of those nights where you have a dream that was going to haunt me for the entire day.  As I sat there on my dock on Lake George with my wife pondering my next career move, I remember a distinct moment where I stood up, turned to Lindsey and said, “I’m going to build my own agency.” I realized at that moment that I certainly had the experience and have always possessed the entrepreneurial drive to create my own agency and anything short of this was nothing more then a cop out.

From there my thought process snowballed including who would I want to be my business partners.  Since strategy is so critical to any successful agency Jeff immediately came to mind.  He’d be able to drive our approach and help define the “special sauce” that would define and differentiate us.  Next came a moment of panic, how were we going to execute all of our big ideas?  It was then that Walter popped into my mind, who better to be able to bring an operational mindset and unique ability to find creative ways to execute seemingly daunting projects.

Jeff and Walt jumped in head first and Sentient was born in October 2008 and I suppose the rest is history.  One thing that I didn’t realize at that time was how complimentary we’d all be to one another’s personality, capabilities and management style.  This ended up being the key to our relationship that fostered a truly impressive partnership.

Aaron: What is Sentient exactly and how is it different then other digital marketing agencies. 

Adam: Sentient is a digital-first marketing communications firm that works across a wide variety of industry verticals, yet with a core practice area in pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing.  There are really two key areas that differentiate us in the market:

  1. Many digital agencies have limited themselves to UX design agencies with boutique technology capabilities. Others have grown as technology companies that don’t focus too much on the creative.  Digital media agencies in many cases grew from being a paid search companies or as part of traditional media agencies and don’t focus on creative or tech.  We focus on all three and have built an agency that is equally as skilled in creative, tech and digital media/metrics.
  2. Our results-driven methodology and approach is perhaps the biggest differentiator for Sentient. We have a fully transparent, accountable model that gives clients confidence in working with Sentient as we’re able to effectively forecast for a client what they can expect and then prove it after.

Aaron: In your mind, what does it mean to be “results-driven”?

Adam: It means everything that we do should be focused on achieving a desired result for our clients and their brands.  While results may vary by industry, product, service or brand the focus of an agency should not. We should all be focused on achieving a desired and predictable outcome from our efforts otherwise what value are we providing to our clients?

Aaron: Today we announced that W2O Group was acquiring Sentient.  What intrigued you about joining forces with W2O Group?

Adam: There are a number of considerations that motivated Jeff, Walter and I to want to join forces with W2O.  First and foremost is the complimentary nature of our two businesses.  Sentient fits incredibly well within the broader W2O Group and as such it is not one of those acquisitions where we need to be concerned about duplication of efforts.  In fact, we see it as a huge benefit to our existing clients to be able to offer a much more robust and broad set of capabilities that compliment what we’re already doing digitally.  Second is the fact that we share a very similar philosophy and culture rooted in analytics and insights.  We’re a group of inquisitive and curious people who are constantly trying to find was to improve the results we’re seeing from our efforts.  Lastly, it’s so exciting to become part of an organization that has achieved the scale and overwhelming success that W2O has and what better time to join forces than now?

Aaron: What does this news mean for you and the Sentient team.

Adam: For me, it represents the next chapter in my career and the opportunity to use my nearly 17 years of internet and digital marketing experience to take Sentient and W2O to the next level digitally.  If there’s one thing that was reaffirmed as we went through this process is how incredibly proud I am of what we’ve created at Sentient.  Not many people can say that they’ve built a successful company that has experienced remarkable growth in the midst of an awful economy.  I’m truly excited to continue providing our existing clients with the services and quality they expect while also introducing to them an expanded offering that can drive measurable results for their businesses.  I’m also excited to work with W2O’s clients by bringing a more robust and integrated set of digital capabilities to the table.

As for the Sentient team, this is an incredible opportunity for all of them, and that’s perhaps what I’m most excited about. I’ve always told my employees that they represent one of the most important assets we have as a business, and we would never do anything that would put their jobs or livelihood at risk…after all, if we did we’d be putting the company at risk.  One of my jobs leading Sentient is insulating us all from risk wherever and whenever possible.  If we’re to grow, which in and of itself is the biggest insulator to risk, we must not solely rely on organic growth but also seek more strategic drivers that can truly change the trajectory of the business.  This partnership with W2O is going to do just that and as a result give our employees tremendously greater career opportunities.  Our staff will now be part of a larger organization, with greater capabilities, increased access to a wide variety of clients and greater geographic diversity.  This move only represents upside potential so long as they’re motivated to help us build the best possible company.  In fact everyone at Sentient, and everyone already operating in a digital/creative capacity at W2O, should view this moment as being placed at the “knee of the curve” of something truly incredible.  Its times like these that provide employees with a dramatic increase in career opportunity as they have a bigger stage on which to perform.


Aaron: Where is the future of digital headed?

Adam and Jeff Rohwer: Digital has never ceased to amaze me and has always kept me on my toes given how rapidly it changes.  In fact its this incredibly fast pace that has made me avoid answering questions like this in the past as I’ve always been afraid of reading my response a year later on things like Web 2.0, social and mobile and chuckling at what I may have said.  But since you asked this loaded question I’d say that on a macro level the Internet of Things (“IoT”) will truly transform how we target, engage and influence users.  IoT will put an increased responsibility on marketers to engage our targets in more meaningful ways.

IoT will force us to put more emphasis on engaging our targets in the moments that matter and those moments tomorrow are going to be defined very differently than they are today.   While we’ll have increasingly creepier ways of targeting users and leveraging attribution to motivate behaviors, we must respect the increased responsibility this places on us all as marketers.

At a more micro-level, I’m hopeful that clients across industries will seek to unify how they engage with their digital agencies.  Divesting digital programs between multiple agencies (creative, tech, media) does not, in my opinion, save money, time or produce positive results.  I’d like to see the pendulum swing back to a place where the digital agency defines the strategy, executes the creative (whether unique to digital or pulled through from offline), builds the actual destinations and promotes the program seamlessly through targeted digital media.   After all, how can we feel comfortable telling a client that we can motivate changes in customer behaviors at influential moments in their journeys if we’re not using a fully integrated approach?

Looking into the crystal ball can be dangerous but there are some things that we know will continue to transform the world and how we market products and services.

We believe we’re at the knee of the curve with marketing disruption when you look at the coming wave of algorithms that will forever change not just how we engage people on behalf of our clients, but fundamentally the role of technology versus humans. As technology becomes more sentient (no pun intended), we know that algorithms will eventually replace many of the things that people do today. In a world where algorithms can understand us, create content, analyze data and make marketing decisions, the question becomes what is the role of technology vs. the role of humans in marketing?

As a services-based business that relies on technology to facilitate what we do, we’re looking critically at these issues to better understand the partnerships, technologies and human skill sets that will be needed to take our offering successfully into the future and maintain our competitive edge.

Aaron: Switching gears, what is your approach to learning and staying up to speed?

Adam: I have to admit that I’ve never been to keen on reading books or taking tests.  I realized this early in life but it was reinforced when I went to college where I had the opportunity to learn from some truly impressive and successful businessmen and women.  The people that have been most influential in my life learned more from watching and doing then reading.  So instead of reading about something, I’ve gone and done it.  This taught me to make it a habit of surrounding myself with the smartest and most influential people I could find.  It’s these people that I’ve been fortunate to call my friends and colleagues that have been responsible for most of my education.

Aaron: Can you recall a movie quote that has inspired you in business and your personal life?

Adam: Bruce Wayne’s Father in Batman:

“Do you know why we fall down?  To learn how to pick ourselves back up”.

This couldn’t be more true for me and its something I’m constantly telling my little boys.

Aaron: Fun question: if you were stranded on a desert island and could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Adam: That’s easy Bob Marley’s Exodus

Thank you Adam (and Jeff). We are very much looking forward to having you and the Sentient team as part of the W2O Group family. Wrapping this interview up, I have a good feeling that as Mr. Marley wrote in the famous song, Three Little Birds, “Every little thing gonna be alright.”