Forget the big brands it works with. Droga5 is a huge brand in itself. But, despite huge client wins and massive internal growth in the past 12 months, the agency remains intriguingly quiet when it comes to PR-ing itself. Lucy Clark takes a look behind Droga5’s doors to find out what makes it tick.
When you think of Droga5, you can’t help but think of ‘cool’. Throughout huge growth Down Under in 2012 – thanks to a couple of enormous client wins – Droga5 maintained an air of mystery, coupled with quiet confidence. It’s certainly not one to shout about its work from the rooftops.
Droga5 is only young. It was set up in New York in 2006 by four creatives with itchy feet – David Droga, Andrew Essex, Judd Engelbrecht and Duncan Marshall. “We had all worked in large places and interesting places, but wanted to do our own thing,” recalls Marshall, now executive creative director in Sydney. “We set up with a goal to do good work with good people.”
The Sydney office came two years later, founded by David Nobay, Sudeep Gohil and Marianne Bess. Gohil, now CEO in Sydney, says: “It didn’t make any sense to have an office in Australia, it was more about the people. We started out with the three of us and my dog. We had the same philosophy, drive and ambitions. We knew that we wanted to do something bigger, better and different. And we didn’t want to become the thing that we were leaving.”
With no founding clients and forbidden from tapping their former agencies’ clients (Saatchi & Saatchi for Nobay and Wieden + Kennedy for Gohil), “we did the only thing we could, which was to cold call the brands we hadn’t worked with,” explains Gohil.
One of those calls led to a pitch for Carlton United Breweries’ Victoria Bitter – and a win. “We went from three people and a dog in a garage to 12 people overnight,” remembers Gohil.
Collaboration is at the core of Droga5’s philosophy, as Marshall explains: “We encourage all our business strategists to think creatively, and all our creatives to think business. In the middle where we all meet is where interesting things happen. We like to work collaboratively – and not just pay lip service to that.”
This collaboration is Droga5’s point of difference. “We think of ourselves as a creative business consultancy,” says Gohil. “That means we need to be good at asking tough questions. Ad agencies are not as good at that as they should be. You end up doing work that felt right at the time, but is off the mark.”
He adds: “We talk about being genuine business partners and not just suppliers. We like doing stuff we’ve not done before, and with that comes things like internal communications. Big brands now want their messages to come from the core of the business, so we start with the employees and get them to understand what the company stands for.”
Droga5 is also ‘humanity obsessed’. Gohil explains: “We think we should do some good and the work we have done for the UN is an example of that.”
2012 saw unprecedented growth for Droga5, mainly thanks to Qantas and Woolworths shifting their creative accounts to the agency.
“A lot of people thought that those wins would change us as an agency,” says Marshall. “But we approached them as we do all our clients: creatively. We love to work with assets and tools. Woolworths has hundreds of tools – trucks, stores, staff – that we can work with. And Qantas has planes and lounges. What we are good at is joining the dots, finding things that are unconnected and creating something new.”
Last year’s move to link Telstra with James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge is one example of connecting the dots. Telstra was the project’s global telecommunications partner, providing the Deepsea crew with connection to the outside world. “It had nothing to do with advertising, but it was a win for everybody,” explains Marshall. “Cameron benefitted from the technology and Telstra from getting their name out there.”
About a third of Droga5’s work results in no creative output. Gohil says: “Depending on how we get introduced to a client, often we get briefs where there is no creative output. The creative department is still involved in that, just the output is different.”
Droga5’s new director of innovation, American Katie Dreke, is central to working out how a brand is going to communicate itself. She says: “I have to really get in there and understand the brand. It’s still about being able to communicate that and say ‘I know where the heart beats in this brand’.”
Coping with growth
Winning the Qantas and Woolworths accounts saw Droga5 Sydney grow from 58 to 130 people in just eight months. “We had phenomenal growth that was never our intention, but it’s exciting to work with big brands who genuinely want change,” says Marshall.
Gohil adds: “Some huge clients came to us for the right reasons – for our work, not for us shouting about everything we do. Woolworths and Qantas are iconic Australian brands, which fit nicely with our roster of other Australian brands.
“The growth has been hard to manage. But the brands attract great people, and our brand as an agency attracts great people. Now we have got more capabilities, more skills and more interesting people, so our existing clients benefit as well.”
To accommodate the scores of new team members, the agency has taken over three times the amount of space it started out with at its Yurong Street offices – and is in the middle of a renovation.
Throughout the growth, Gohil says they have “worked hard to maintain our culture”. The monthly D5 Download is still a tradition, where the whole agency gets together for a ‘show and tell’ on what’s been happening.
The focus for 2013 is three-fold: bedding down new client wins, getting on top of data, and developing closer working relationships with media agencies.
Plans are in motion to bring data experts over from Droga5’s New York office to kick-start a data and analytics team in Sydney. Gohil says: “The next year will be a great year. We have a lot of momentum and piles of work in production.”
In an ideal world, Gohil says creative and media would re-join. “One of the worst things that happened to advertising was when media and creative separated. We want to work closer with media.”
He adds: “It’s a pretty bitchy industry at the best of times. This agency was inspired by looking at that and thinking ‘there has got to be a better way of doing it’. The industry needs to grow up and evolve. That will be the biggest challenge in the coming years.”
Finally, the question we couldn’t leave without asking, for those who don’t know – why ‘5’?