Is there a renewed emphasis at the agency on creative storytelling?
Greenberg: I think one thing that Nick and I and some others at R/GA discovered is that we have to move into creative storytelling. It's very difficult to do that well without understanding the full digital landscape. I think we're right at the beginning of something very new that to me, harkens back to what happened when storytellers took a new look at rock videos for example. We have to develop and be better at storytelling, and it's a real emphasis that we have across all levels of the agency. On the other hand, most agencies don't have people who understand the digital landscape. If you can cross-train and do what we're talking about doing, you'd really get a 1+1=3 scenario for our clients.
Law: For example, on Nike+, we have a classic application there and an interface designed by designers who understand interfaces, but we also have little pieces which you could say are storytelling pieces, like when the graph draws, you have a little CG runner that runs along. There are little bits that have more of a sensibility that comes from that world. So when you get them working together, you get the rigor of interactive thinking and you're able to tell simple stories within that framework. Then you get something very different.
How has the hiring of a creative like Robert Rasmussen affected the work of projects like Nike?
Law: Robert was actually working on interactive stuff for a long time. Way back, when he was with Wieden, he was doing some of the first dabbles for an agency in the interactive world. So he's very comfortable in that world even though the culture he was in was more traditional advertising. He obviously had a broad range of skills, but more importantly, he saw the world through R/GA eyes before he even got here. He believes what we believe in. He also had a long relationship with the Nike so he was the perfect fit for us in that respect.
How has the in-house digital studio benefited you guys? What is day-to-day like there?
Greenberg: As we go back historically and with some rather recent achievements, we really did created the model for computer-assisted filmmaking and then, for an integrated digital production capability. Now, we're trying, number one, to make it very inexpensive. That means we're working primarily with Apple and Adobe kinds of software and hardware. We do everything from music to transfers to mixes to voiceover recording to editing, compositing and image processing. We have an insert stage, etc. It's really what R/GA used to do before, but now all of the things that R/GA did in the past are available on a desktop. We've restructured it around three people that come from varied backgrounds, including Winston Thomas, an ECD. He's been with R/GA close to twelve years. He's an amazing designer but he also is completely skilled in the digital landscape and crosses over to when we had the last version of the studio that lasted until 2000. Then, I brought back as a creative director Mark Voelpel, who ran our computer graphics group before. He was the perfect candidate for integrating many aspects of what we're doing in terms of compositing, production, etc. We bought in a new hire Vin Farrell as executive producer. He came out of building the studio for Digitas and more recently, he ran in-house production for Spike TV and has also produced feature films. We're up to 30 people and are doubling the size of our space.
Do you think the creative process is hurt by not having in-house control?
Law: I think the process becomes more linear. One of the issues is not just working with production people in-house, but also working with technology in-house which a lot of these other agencies are jobbing out. Unless you have those people at the beginning of the creative process, then you're not going to come up with solutions that are really breakthrough in this environment where technology changes every six months. There are seismic changes that affect what you can do and not just how you deliver it. Unless you have those people at the table from the beginning and you're collaborating, you're not going to get there.
Does the "interactive agency" moniker still apply nowadays?
Law: I don't think we'd call ourselves that, but the trend in the whole industry is the blurring of disciplines. It's not just this binary relationship between traditional and interactive agencies. We compete against companies that design software and do industrial design, and there are times that we compete against PR agencies or brand and identity companies. More and more, the more important agencies span across a few of these disciplines. How to name them is difficult, and that confusion is reflected in the awards, too, where it's getting harder and harder to create categories. The output of these agencies is something that's not as classically siloed as it has been for years.
Law's right when he says the task of defining agencies has gotten tricky. Case in point, runner-up Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, which outpaced the rest of the "traditional" shops and even other interactive contenders with sophisticated, entertaining campaigns that seamlessly traversed platforms and tapped the interactive space in smart—and appropriate—ways for clients like Milk, Rolling Rock, Comcast, Doritos, Adobe, Hyundai, Sprint and HP. The latter is just one example of how Goodby successfully extends a brand's promise online. The agency stepped up last year's HP-transforming "Computer is Personal" effort and broadened the stories of "mysterious" celebrities like Shrek's Princess Fiona and designer Vera Wang. Even printers got an image boost in a campaign inviting a younger demographic of consumers to have fun with musician Gwen Stefani with inventive downloads like Harajuku Girl paper dolls.
Nick Law and Bob Greenberg reflect on some of the projects that helped R/GA earn the honor of Creativity's 2007 Interactive Agency of the Year, including, of course, the multiawarded Nike+ community site and challenge tool, Verizon's "Action Hero," the agency's three-dimensional sequel to its "Beatbox Mixer" software from 2006, and more dynamic digital signage in Times Square for Avaya.