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Lunch & Learn with Rishad Tobaccowala at Viewpoints


As part of our ongoing effort to bring in thought-provoking speakers to help the Viewpoints team learn from different perspectives, we were privileged to have Rishad Tobaccowala, the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer from VivaKi, come speak to us today.


I have known Rishad for many years and find him to be a forward-looking and thought-provoking speaker on the topics of media, technology, content and life in general. He did not disappoint this time out! What made it even more fun was that we did it in cooperation with our friends and upstairs neighbors from Centro.


Rishad addressed a group of 100-plus employees from our two companies and discussed how to stay young, stay fresh and remain open to new ideas. He told us he is on a mission to always stay at different hotels, eat at different restaurants, listen to new music, read new content and even once a year spend a week at a college, all in an effort to stay current, stay relevant and keep a fresh perspective and an open mind.


He talked about the future of brands as it related to audience, content, data and the enterprise. I found it interesting to think about each of these dimensions and how "the age of connection" might impact how brands stay relevant. Rishad talked about how brands can become more relevant than others in a world of increasing choice and fragmentation. He noted the consumer is more in control than ever before and the empowering nature of social media and mobile technology and how the relationship between consumers and brands are changing because of the disproportionate power and influence one customer can have over a multi-million dollar brand. (That reminded me of Pete Blackshaw's book about one angry customer telling 3,000 people about his problems.)


Rishad discussed the need for each employee to establish his or her personal brand and introduced the counterintuitive idea that it's not always a bad thing to stay in your current job despite being able to make more money working somewhere else — as long as that gap doesn't grow disproportionately. In Rishad's way of thinking, staying means you are getting experience and learning about things that are making you more valuable. Why would you leave a role where your value is always increasing? On the other hand, if you don't think you will make yourself more valuable each year that you stay, then you should leave. That inverted way of looking at the world is what makes Rishad so interesting. His closing line also hit a chord with me (and I will paraphrase): "The most precious asset you have is now. The present. Use it well." 

You can follow Rishad on Twitter at or read his blog at

His career biography:

Rishad Tobaccowala

Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer


Rishad Tobaccowala serves as a key component of the VivaKi executive management board, where he oversees innovation and reinvention efforts across all VivaKi brands, including: Denuo, Digitas, Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) and ZenithOptimedia.


Prior to his current role, Tobaccowala was CEO of Denuo – a Publicis Groupe company that invents, inspires and instigates new forms of creativity to help brands meet challenges of modern marketplaces.


Tobaccowala has also served as the Chief Innovation Officer of Publicis Groupe Media and was the founder and President of SMG Next, the first and most comprehensive futures practice in the media industry. The development of SMG Next resulted in the launch of several successful practices for SMG including: SMG Play, the first company to leverage videogames as a marketing platform; word-of-mouth practice Reverb; and Digits, a leader in mobile marketing. Tobaccowala was also responsible for developing SMG Search, a dedicated unit of SMG that specializes in leveraging search applications in new ways.


Before conceptualizing SMG NEXT, Tobaccowala was president and founder of SMG IP, the digital arm of SMG. As such, he played a central role in the agency, which was selected by Media in 2002 and 2004 as Interactive Agency of The Year.


In 1993, Tobaccowala formed Leo Burnett’s Interactive Marketing Group. Between 1996 and 1999, he served as the President of Giant Step, Leo’s interactive agency.


Tobaccowala was named by BusinessWeek as one of the top business leaders for his pioneering innovation (2005), and TIME magazine dubbed him one of five “Marketing Innovators.” He was appointed to Advertising Age's Interactive Hall of Fame; named Adweek's 2000 Media All-Star for Interactive Media; and honored by OMMA as a Media Strategist All-Star in 2005. In 2008, he was named an industry legend by Ad Color, and in 2009, conferred an Industry Achievement award at ad:tech for long-term dedication and industry service. 


In addition to the VivaKi board, he serves on the board of directors for leading behavioral marketing firm Audience Science, distributed media network Snap (an Idealab Company) and Recycle Bank. He also serves as an advisor to a broad range of companies, including Feeva, Greycroft Partners, House Party, Marketshare Partners, My6Sense, Viewpoints, Visible Measures and the Berlin School of Creative Leadership.


Tobaccowala holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Bombay and an M.B.A. from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.