If you combed the floors of this year's Consumer Electronics
Show, R/GA's imprint stood behind each fashionable category:
wearables and the Internet of Things (the agency worked with
Google and Samsung); 3-D
printing (Makerbot, a leading manufacturer, signed on with the shop
in 2014); and the on-demand economy (Airbnb did, too).
But R/GA truly reigned in another hot tech sector. At the
beginning of 2014, R/GA and its client Beats by Dre were preparing
a presentation, for Cannes, on building a billion-dollar brand. By
May, Apple had agreed to pay $3 billion for it.
R/GA executives credit their success to flipping the customary
model on its head. "Traditional agencies go from TV to perhaps
internet, mobile and social," said Mr. Greenberg. "We're going the
Agencies falter with the top-down approach of taking the TV
model to digital, said Nick Law, global chief creative officer. "We
start with, 'How is the world receiving stuff? What is the culture
of the internet right now? And how do we fit in?'"
Once pigeonholed as a digital shop, the agency is now expanding
aggressively into broadcast. In December, it won the creative
account for E-Trade. That same month, it opened up a "content
studio" for immersive production work.
Following the Apple acquisition of Beats, R/GA formed a conflict
shop in Los Angeles. The fact that R/GA has continued to work with
Beats and also Apple's two nemeses -- Samsung and Google -- is
testament to its ability to manage a firewall.
"We're literally building a point of view together. We don't
work as a traditional agency and client," said Omar Johnson, the
CMO of Beats Electronics. "The best idea wins, whether it's from
R/GA or us." Currently, R/GA is working on a new digital platform
for Beats Electronics -- "the site of the future," Mr. Johnson
added -- which will launch soon.
Mr. Johnson is among a group of Nike marketing veterans,
including Todd Pendleton, CMO of Samsung America, who turned to
R/GA in their next jobs. Nike is a longtime client of the shop.
"They're all risk-takers," Mr. Law said of the CMOs the agency
works with regularly.
R/GA holds regular "white space" reviews -- staff-wide
brainstorming sessions meant to spur ideas outside of briefs. In
one, a staffer pitched using Google Cardboard, a virtual-reality
kit, to promote Volvo's XC90 truck. R/GA brought the idea to Volvo.
The automaker ran with it at the Los Angeles Auto Show in
Early interest in the XC90 is up 50% from the prior year, said
Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, Volvo's general manager-monitoring and
concept center. "They understand the brand," he said of R/GA. "We
work closer with them than we typically would with an ad
As R/GA migrated into broadcast in 2014, Mr. Greenberg marshaled
advances in other directions. Its accelerator for connected-device
startups, launched with Techstars in 2013, expanded. By the end of
2015, R/GA expects to have an equity stake in 70 companies.
Its consulting arm, called "business transformation," grew in
its second year. The unit now accounts for 10% of the agency's
revenue, and R/GA hopes it can eventually account for one-third of
revenue. "Pure consultancy doesn't work in this world," said Barry
Wacksman, global chief growth officer, pointing to Samsung, one of
the agency's larger clients, which is looking to form its
connected-device strategy. "Are Bain and McKinsey going to help
them figure this out?"
Mr. Greenberg's vision is to consolidate under one roof R/GA's
consulting unit with its core communications and products work for
He will have a new roof, too. Later this year, R/GA plans to
move its New York headquarters to a 175,000-square-foot space in
the city's Hudson Yards development. Designed by acclaimed
architect Norman Foster, the office will allow the shop's 750
employees to communicate easily with colleagues and clients in its
15 offices globally, Mr. Greenberg said.
It's also a hedge against bigger competition. R/GA executives
said they have managed to retain technology talent but admitted
pressure is growing. This year Samsung is expanding its New York
offices nearby; so are Google and Facebook. The agency's new space
is meant keep people there. It will be "the coolest place in the
city," Mr. Greenberg said.
Reflecting on 2014, he repeated his axiom. "It was the hardest
year," he said. "Except for next year."