interview with David Droga is the first ever Worldwide Creative Director

drogaDavid Droga is the first ever Worldwide Creative Director for Publicis Worldwide. Droga, who has had an exceptional international career, has won more awards than any other creative director including 42 Cannes Lions, 23 One Show Pencils and seven D&ADs. In addition, he was named “World’s Top Creative Director” by Ad Age in 2002 and named one of the most influential people in Europe under the age of 40 by Media Magazine in 2001. Under his leadership as executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi London, that agency was named “Global Agency of the Year” at the Cannes International Advertising Festival 2002. Droga, 37, is currently creating a joint venture with Publicis Groupe called Drogafive. The “brand ideas and entertainment laboratory” will open this year in New York and Los Angeles. And next, i found an interview with Droga by Ihaveanidea.com in April 2005. I hope Droga could inspire you as he inspire me… Enjoy! How the hell did you become a creative director at 21? Luck. Circumstances. I think ignorance and naivety go a long way. I had no idea about the industry, the structure of the industry, the timeline of what you should be doing, what titles meant or anything like that. I was quite wide-eyed when I entered the industry. I was 18, and I had just finished an advertising school in Australia, which was sort of the main ad school in Australia and which is run by the ad industry. I was lucky to be a top student, so I got a job right away in some big boring multinational. After only a few months in that boring big multinational I knew what I clearly didn’t want to do. And by chance there was some big creative in Australia who was setting up an agency and he asked if I wanted to join, and I did, so I was the first employee. Essentially there were 4 people in this agency. They didn’t even have a desk or anything like that, and again they were relatively young as well, 27, 28. So none of us had any agenda or cared too much about money. It had to do with the right timing. How ideas just seemed to resonate with anybody. Suddenly it became the ‘it’ agency in Australia, and this was sort of the late 80’s. It sort of boomed. I grew up with the agency very quickly. Suddenly we went from a four man shop to a fifty man shop. One of the partners decided to leave advertising. When he left, I was almost writing everything so they asked me if I wanted to be the creative director and they offered me a partnership in the agency. So by the will of the agency I found myself at 21 being the creative director. I didn’t know what I inherited, I just thought, wow, that’s an interesting title. We were quite removed from the industry then, we were sort of the whipper snapper. But our work was not only the most awarded, it was also the most talked about. So that’s how I became a creative director. Did you mess up a lot? Because from the sounds of it, you smoothly went into fame. Those three years from 18 to 21, when one is most scared and insecure, must have been filled with messups right? I never thought I was more talented than anyone else, but I made a conscious decision to work harder than anyone else. I decided to do whatever it took to get the best ideas out. I slept in the agency two nights a week. My social life was rubbish. How is it now? It’s a different type of rubbish. This industry isn’t ruled by timelines. It’s not like law firms when you know you have to put 10 years here, 15 years there. You are only as good as everyone says. You all stare at the same white page. From the biggest to the smallest names in the industry. I decided to work as hard as I could to leapfrog past the bullshit and awkwardness of some of the stuff we do in our industry. I wasn’t at all preoccupied by money. At that time I was very successful in Australia and I had lots of offers to go to other places for muuuch much more money, but I knew that if I did that it would go in a different avenue that I didn’t want to go. So I just said, do the work, do the work. And I was learning all the way along. That ignorance and naivety probably allowed me to present and say things in meetings that other people would have been too sensible to do. I stayed there for a while, but it got to a point where we were taking ourselves too seriously, and of course the partners were now married with kids and they were now sitting down to think about their mortgages and stuff, which is o.k. since it’s part of life, but I was still a young, angry, restless guy. I didn’t like the idea of having responsibilities and when I felt the agency was going mainstream I decided to leave. BBDO bought the agency, I gave up my share and got out. Then you joined Saatchi right? Yeah, in Asia. I wasn’t tied and Asia is an exciting place. The likes of the Neil Frenches had put a spotlight on that. Was Neil a big mentor for you? Yes and no. I have a huge respect for Neil, but I have never worked with him. He proved geography didn’t matter. You could take a country like Singapore and create waves globally. This was a very interesting thing for me since it wasn’t about money or population, it was about ideas. I was there for two and a half years, and that was like five or six years anywhere else. It’s a workload that is very rapid and very global. My creative department was like the U.N. Everyone was aware of everything around the world. That was very good for me because I was out of my comfort zone. I like leaving that comfort zone and building a creative culture. From a great creative culture comes great work. So tell me, we all know about Saatchi’s culture, its origins and history. But what about Publicis? What does it stand for? Clearly you gotta look at the beginnings of it. It’s very European. It started in this very small and iconic shop in France. It had a lot of business success. It bought out all the major players and suddenly it also realized it had to stamp out its creative authority. They are very honest about what they had and what they are lacking. To me, one of the reasons why I took the job, (while everyone tells me ‘you are crazy’, which actually makes me want to do it even more), is that the natural thing for me, after Saatchi was to do a start-up. And that’s exciting on one level. But taking a huge operation and make it feel like a startup is a great challenge. Fundamentally an agency, no matter how big, is really a collection of people. You have 20 right people in the network and you can change it. It’s about picking the right people in the structure and having an honest mandate from the top. Instead of starting from scratch. You’ve been a CD for a long time. Has the actual function and role of a creative director changed over the past years? I think so, well what’s interesting for me from being a writer to a creative director was that I am the most selfish person in the world. I couldn’t work with an art director, I had to do the idea myself. I was very closed about that. The surprise was, when I became a creative director, was that I got off just as much, if not more, from my creatives having great ideas. I could feel my personality in their ads, but I didn’t have to write it for them. Gone are the days when the CD was this intimidating force at the end of the room with a closed door that says yes or no. It’s as much as setting a benchmark of what work is good enough and setting a mandate for the agency. It’s about the spirit of the place. I also think a lot of CD’s are torn between the ‘I want to be a creative director’ and the “but I also want to do a lot of the glory pieces myself.” It’s crazy. I knew when I lived in Singapore and London that the more successful people there were in my department, as opposed to one or two start teams, the better. If everyone is getting better, it will reflect on you. I wasn’t worried thinking my name has to be in what this or that writer is doing. For me, the best CD’s are the ones who don’t hijack a creative department and let it be just that, a ‘creative department’. So you are in the hall of fame. What happens when they put you in the hall of fame. Do you have to embed your hands on a star in the floor or something? It’s another burden. It’s wonderful to get recognition for things. I get nervous every time there’s too many accolades. I am very appreciate of getting respect and recognition. But at the same time, I also beat myself up over it. When I went to Singapore my mission was simple, to piss off Saatchi London. Which we did, so they hired me to run Saatchi London. When I went into London, what happened, which was very interesting, was that I was one of the first foreign creative directors. The reception I got was a very cynical cold one. Who the hell is this 29 year old Australian from Singapore. What the fuck is he doing coming into our market. So that made me think, “O.K. Put your head down and do the job. Prove that a foreigner can do the job.” Now coming to my new job, which is a global job, the same thing happens. The American press has been very very good in welcoming me with open arms. Which is almost the opposite, which of course, creates exactly the same result, since there has been so much goodwill and faith that ‘oh no’ I know have to deliver the results as well. How come you are part of the VCU Adcenter board? I am a product of an advertising school myself. So I really like them. I think there are way too many ad schools and way too many award shows, so when the right one comes along, that has integrity and has a mission that’s more than pumping students out, it really intrigues me. I have a lot of respect for Rick Boyko. He didn’t need to do this, he’s really trying to build something substantial. I want to be part of that. There’s some selfish reasons cause I want to be in the loop of where the best young talent is coming in. There’s also something incredibly refreshing about trying to be involved with the people coming in. You cannot have a mountain peak without the base of the mountain. I am trying to take the industry somewhere good, but there’s people who’s name I don’t even know who will take their turn in redefining the industry. So what’s the story with Australia. I always think of them as the ones who do the edgy crazy stuff. I have however read that you side with the fact that Australians produce great work, but Australia not so much. I am probably one of the proudest Australians you’ll meet but I am also very Australian because I say what I think. We have some great people, but it’s wrestling with an attitude about (a) it’s not too interested that much in what’s happening elsewhere (b) Australia is a very relaxed country. Why does London produce the best bands in the world and all time? It’s raining all day and people go to their basements to produce beautiful music. Given the choice, in Australia between sitting by the harbour and having a three hour lunch and spending your weekend working at the office, what are you going to do? Who’s the schmuck? No one. It’s a choice you make. How about India? They are making headlines, and an Indian is the chief judge at Cannes this year. India is open minded and cosmopolitan. I think they are looking at the rest of the world thinking “hey I can do that”. I have a worldwide creative board and one of the stars in the board is the woman running our India office. They are such a genuine energy. There is creative hunger, but it doesn’t have the cynicism of the other markets. It doesn’t seem like they are following anyone. They have a very unique culture to tap into. There are certain things you must do compete in global shows and I am sure they fall into some formulas but its culture is so rich and diverse that there’s a lot of great stuff nonetheless. I am very lucky to have been given the opportunity to experience different markets. There are more similarities than there are differences. We’re all basic humans moved by the same things. You have won everything there is to be won, so tell me. Is there an ideal time frame from brief to final delivery that a gold, award-winning ad needs to be in. Could it be possible that if your idea is taking too x time too long to produce it will start to get mushy and grey? Not really. If you spend too much time you over think it. But I don’t think there is a benchmark of time. What about that Monster.com stuff you made, or the Army ads you made? Some of the edgiest stuff I’ve been involved with was the easiest thing I ever solved. It’s the ones that are built upon bullshit or generic stuff that is hard. If you can have a rational and honest conversation with the clients about the product, then the execution is the easiest part. I have found that the ideas that I’ve loved the most have been the easiest to sell. You talk a lot about honest advertising and having brands that have a point of view. But that seems to be something that the Chief Creative Officer will deal with, not us the creatives. That’s what the CD is there for. They have to go beyond ‘that’s a funny spot’. I’ve blown down so many ideas that I know are funny, but which I know are disposable. The conversations I always have with the creative teams are ‘what does the brand stand for?’, ‘what is its point of view?’ There’s nothing more moving than reality, but reality doesn’t mean slice of life. I always make my creatives present thoughts, not scripts. They present conversation starters. We don’t ‘open on’ anything. Don’t waste your time crafting something that won’t go anywhere. Let’s first talk about direction. It’s weird cause it’s sounding I have this massive wisdom, but I don’t. I don’t have formulas or anything. How do you keep up? What fuels you these days? I believe in what I do. What inspires is playing with emotions. I am the youngest of 5 boys so I am massively competitive. Maybe that’s my fuel. So how do you offset it? I am into Yoga now. SOURCE: ihaveanidea.org


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