Greenberg oversees growth of R/GA into all-around power

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Bob Greenberg is about to reinvent his agency once again. He's transitioning R/GA, a pioneer in interactive creative, from an agency specializing in Web work to one that branches out to all channels.

Mr. Greenberg, R/GA's CEO-chief creative director, is somewhat of a Houdini at reincarnating his business. He founded the company in 1977 doing computer assisted film making then began a feature-film production concern, specializing in computer-aided design, and worked on "Superman," "Alien" and "All That Jazz." In 1992, he started interactive-advertising projects, while continuing to work on films. IBM was one of the first online clients.

Expanding to other channels has happened already through R/GA's Web work, and much of that at the request of its clients, particularly its biggest, Nike. The videos for the Nike microsite the Art of Speed-which R/GA designed for the Web on the blog Gawker-showed up at Nike's New York gallery space. Videos R/GA developed for the Nike Women site are now featured at retail space Nike Town. The Hooptown online concept became a comic book and an installation at Nike Town. Other clients, such as Purina Co., commissioned TV spots from R/GA.

"The idea is that organically the agency has grown from interactive into other areas," Mr. Greenberg said.

Still, there's a big difference between project work for the occasional TV spot or a print job that is based on successful Web creative already completed and becoming the agency of record for a big brand. Mr. Greenberg neatly sidesteps that question, along with the query about when the transformation will be completed.

`always evolving'

"We're not going to say that we're a multichannel agency-one day we just will be," he said. Based on R/GA's history, the idea is quite sound. Computer-aided design for feature films morphed gradually into campaigns for marketers, which transformed R/GA slowly but surely into one of the first interactive agencies.

David Bell, CEO, R/GA's parent Interpublic Group of Cos., is not troubled by Mr. Greenberg's rather nebulous strategy. "For my money, Bob Greenberg is always changing, always evolving and unerringly correct in what he predicts the future to be," Mr. Bell said.

R/GA will always be centered in the interactive business, Mr. Greenberg added, because R/GA's evolution signals the direction all interactive agencies will go. "What R/GA is forming is already a new model," he said. "We're already able to be targeted, measurable and fully integrated."

General agencies, he believes, are already far behind. "Interactive is going to influence mobile, in-store advertising, signs, computers, cellphones-everything," he said from his glass-lined, sunny office in New York's Hell's Kitchen, so full of paintings and sculptures from Mr. Greenberg's collection of "outsider art" that it resembles an art studio more than an office. "Agencies need to become channel-agnostic, and that's not the way it's been working. Everybody has been looking at [creative] as 60-second commercials."

One obstacle to agencies' adopting the interactive creed is techno-phobia. That's a mistake because the future will be a household of consumers who are wireless-enabled, addicted to games, downloading movies and music and skipping commercials, led by the under-18 crowd. "The kids are the major influencers in the family [and] agencies don't know how to talk to them," he said.

Musing in the Bauhaus-inspired building he built in 1985, he explains how these influencers think, using the new language of the Web. "Today, Web users have an interactive vocabulary," he said. "Once someone knows the language, they can use it anywhere-on the Web, cellphones, ITV."

Just Asking

Q: R/GA's first incarnation was feature film work. What is your favorite movie?

A: "Alexander Nevsky" (1938), "Persona" (1966), "Annie Hall" (1977). There is nothing new. "Lord of the Rings" is the only film with anything innovative in it.

Q: What book influenced you?

A: "Catcher in the Rye." My understanding of the word phony comes out of it, which helped me in Hollywood where I met some of the most phony people in the world. I bought a first edition and visited all the places Holden Caulfield visited in New York.

Q: What is your attraction to outsider art?

A: Outsider artists are self-taught and I'm self-taught. It's about a singular vision as opposed to a collaborative vision. It's the purest vision of any communications art form that I've ever seen.

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