“We’re Invited To Pitch Because We Say Something Different”: R/GA’s Australia’s New CEO Michael Titshall

“We’re Invited To Pitch Because We Say Something Different”: R/GA’s Australia’s New CEO Michael Titshall

“We don’t pitch ourselves as a digital agency at all. I think we pitch ourselves as a progressive, innovative agency,” Michael Titshall, CEO of R/GA Australia, told B&T.

“That’s why we’re invited to pitch on things. They’re keen to see something different, something a little bit unexpected.”

For many in adland, the IPG-owned agency is a digital-first, tech-focused creative and production shop with deep expertise in the world of the internet — even the first three pieces of work shown off on its website are all digital campaigns.

However, while Titshall makes clear that the agency is proud of its strong digital reputation and that it is more important than ever, saying: “If we’re not thinking digital-first, then we’re not really connecting with people,” he wanted everyone to know that R/GA is far from a one-trick pony.

In May, for example, the agency launched a government-focused practice led by former Deloitte Digital director Tish Karunarathna. Titshall himself was quietly promoted to CEO in the middle of June.

“Our purpose is to create a more human future and we want to create work that helps our clients’ businesses thrive. When we think about launching practices, we think about where we can have the biggest impact and where our capabilities and skill sets intersect,” he explained.

“Governments are one area of society where you can have a real impact on society and at a really holistic level.”

However, as with anything involving the government, brands and agencies often find themselves walking a perilous tightrope of trying to help, do the right thing and not find themselves holding a political football if and when the excrement hits the fan.

“There are different departments that we’re going to target and there are certain ones that are a bit more conservative and probably don’t suit our proposition, to be honest,” he said.

“It’s picking the right ones to go after… that will leverage our capability across brand, comms and product and experience.”

Titshall confirmed to B&T that R/GA was already working with one government department but said that he was not at leisure to disclose which.

“Outside of that would be the arts. We’ve done a lot of work with the Powerhouse and the Museum of Chinese in Australia. We think we’re well-positioned to work with those sectors within government and which ladder back to our proposition and capability,” he explained.

“Health is another one. There’s lots of disruption happening in the health sector in markets like the US. We haven’t seen it happen here but it’s going to happen at some point and there’s a lot of investment behind that — especially preventative health from the government. The ingredients are there for really interesting things to happen over the next five years.”

Now, without wanting to stoke the flames of the culture wars, R/GA, with its offices in Sydney’s Surry Hills and in Melbourne’s Cremorne, is unlikely to be the most right-leaning of organisations (like much of adland). Its work with Indigenous youth movement We Are Warriors should be more than enough to suggest otherwise. Those views are so baked into the agency that has its own very bolshy and often hilarious Twitter account.

However, when we ask Titshall whether R/GA’s government practice would continue working with Canberra in the event of another Coalition government, for instance, Titshall refuses to rule it out.

“It’s a good question. I think we would. You may see funding levels in some of the departments change accordingly and, therefore, which departments we would target may have to change. But, in terms of working with the government as a whole, I think it would still be retained,” he said.

This is all part of the plan, though — serving clients (whether it’s Intuit QuickBooks, We Are Warriors, Toyota or potentially Peter Dutton) and producing work that they could never have done themselves.

“We saw a big swing towards full-service agencies over the preceding five to 10 years and a lot of people wanted to in-house. But I think what clients got from that was that things were starting to get a bit average across everything, rather than deep specialisation in things,” said Titshall.

“I’m starting to see clients go back to saying ‘Where can I get some deep specialisation in areas and combine those best minds together to get the best outcome?’ It’s an interesting trend because a lot of clients are starting to take production and those kinds of things in-house.

“That’s why we built practices, right? If you look at the comms creative agency space, it has been continually commoditised over the last decade or two for procurement reviews and those kinds of things. Where we need to get to is to create really unique work that clients can’t do in-house like comms rollouts. If you can bring out that unique value, then they’ll pay appropriately for that.”

To that end, Titshall explained that R/GA is seeking to double down on its experienced staff members and retain them, rather than going through periods of churn with junior members of staff. For example, it recently brought back Seamus Higgins, previously the agency’s APAC chief creative officer, from London.

“In terms of culture, what we’ve tried to work really hard on in the last four years or so is to create a sustainable environment for people to have an end-to-end career. Coming up through the ranks, I witnessed so many of the best people in our industry have kids or whatever and their personal life just not be conducive to agency life,” he said.

“I think that’s led to a lot of people leaving and therefore the work becoming less impactful and more commoditised and therefore there are procurement-led negotiations happening and there is this downward cycle.

“We’ve tried really hard to build an environment where people can do the best work of their career but also think more long term, which feeds into the cultural side of things. But now we’re starting to see its impact on the work improving year-to-year because we’ve been able to retain those people.”

The firm is still growing, though. Titshall explained that R/GA Australia is seeing a 30 per cent growth in revenue, with headcount following accordingly. This growth, according to him leads to an influx of new ideas as new people join. It certainly seems to be an exciting time to be part of R/GA.

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