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Dentsu’s digital transformation is being led by a bunch of 20-somethings

Lewie Allen is not your typical ad agency MD, but Dentsu’s new digital ad agency Fortysix isn’t supposed to be your typical ad agency.

It’s staffed with not-so-typical-20-somethings, led by 28-year-old Allen, and its mission is to “create a new breed of agency built for the digital economy”.

The concept is the brainchild of Tracy De Groose, the not-20-something (sorry!) CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network UK and Ireland, created in collaboration with ‘digital transformation company’ Freeformers.

Before being appointed to lead the team at Fortysix, Allen was plucked from the digital wilderness himself to become a trainer for Freeformers, which has helped the likes of Barclays skill up its older adults for the web-powered future.

“There’s definitely a space for Fortysix within Dentsu, the ad industry in general and we’re hoping it’s a model that could be used in other industries,” Allen told NS Tech.

“There aren’t many MDs who make things on a regular basis and I will definitely be bringing that to the table.”

For people who say “meh” to everything

The team is branding the new company as an “audience specialist” that’ll sit alongside Dentsu’s other agencies. But by audience, they mean they’re focused on that coveted but hard-to-reach Snapchat generation.

“Brands are finding it harder and harder to talk to a young, more digitally-native audience,” Allen says. “We are digital natives, tomorrow’s audience, creating ideas for tomorrow’s audience.”

Allen goes live with huge backing from De Groose, as well as an advisory board that counts the likes of Facebook’s Rob Newlan among its ranks.

He admits he’s got “plenty to learn” in the management area particularly, but says: “I’m not really in tune with all the exec politics and I won’t be entertaining that at all”.

“I’m very experienced with using tools for agile communication and working, which is something I’ll be imparting on the team,” he explains.

“Our speed will be a big part of the offering as it’s something that the industry lacks. We’re hoping it will play a big part in why people want to work with us.”

Its founding clients are Kellogs and Santander, huge ad spenders who’ll no doubt be keen to understand just if and how a team of millennials can really offer them something truly different.

Different people from different places (duh)

It’s diversity of background too, that sets the team apart. Before putting his web development skills to good use schooling people in the boardroom, Allen spent five years living in homeless hostels.

Fortysix launches out of its tiny 46-day beta today with a team of five, including Allen, who as the MD remains the oldest person at not-even-30.

And of course, the recruitment process was itself as much of an experiment. It consisted of a digital skills festival where potential recruits were learning new things over the course of the day – including social, cyber and coding – as well as demoing what they’d bring to the team.

“Dentsu has been a pioneer for how recruitment process should be done in the future.  The biggest challenge for many companies today is trying to find different people in the same places.”

When asked whether he thinks this could change the way business does digital transformation, Allen wasn’t certain, caution that’s almost refreshing, given the cocksure answer you might expect from a more experienced exec.

But with so many business grappling with the digital challenge – and even the likes of Facebook struggling to build products when its team doesn’t represent the diversity of its audience – this could be a model to watch.

Initially, Fortysix will be using ‘touchdown’ spots in Dentsu’s existing network of agency offices in London to help the teams there reach this new audience. That, Allen says, will help build up its brand and case studies so it can start bringing in some proper cash.

Long live the ad agency?

People have long been calling time on the ad agency model as brands look to take out the middle man, or just see the benefits of greater control in-house, so this almost looks like a tired model to reinvigorate.

But Fortysix is now just one small part of the century-old Japanese ad and media corporation Dentsu that’s still reporting record profits thanks to things like big deals secured around the Rio Olympic Games.

It’s also recently trailed its intention to make tens of additional ad tech buyouts in a bid to keep its edge and grow its network.

This is no doubt a drop in the ocean, but one that could just work.