Last year was tough for the industry as a whole, as many clients scaled back spending. But R/GA was better positioned than most to weather the storm, thanks to its strength in non-advertising businesses. Evidence its consulting practice, the fastest-growing and most profitable part of R/GA. The practice and R/GA's accelerators now make up 20 percent of the agency's revenue.
"Clients are cutting budgets and we're seeing the death of the metaphorical commercial," says Bob Greenberg, chairman and CEO of the shop. "What clients need to do now is innovate, and we're able to enable that."
And it will need to do so without Nick Law, one of its great creative lights, who joined R/GA in 2001 and is leaving to join Publicis Groupe in May as global chief operating officer. "Among many things, [Law] leaves a legacy of developing some of the best talent in the industry," says Greenberg. "It is that talent, spread across the entire R/GA network, that will continue to push boundaries and produce award-winning work designed to drive our clients' businesses forward."
Boundary-pushing allowed the shop to eke out single-digit growth in 2017, as overall client spending slowed after two earlier record-breaking years. The agency was helped by businesses like R/GA Ventures, which has backed 89 start-ups. The latest is Macquarie Capital Venture Studio, a platform designed to promote innovations in infratech, with a focus on energy from source to switch.
Venture's technology feeds a creativity vein that in turn benefits clients. Brands including Verizon, Walmart and the Los Angeles Dodgers have given the agency additional business after working with R/GA on Ventures. "It's giving us a pipeline of innovation for all of our clients," says Barry Wacksman, R/GA executive VP, global chief strategy officer.
And, theoretically, for non-clients too. The shop's creative highlights include BotBot, a tool that makes chatbots accessible to the masses by enabling small businesses to build a chatbot in a few short steps through a conversational interface, with no technical expertise required. It shrunk to minutes a process that used to take months.
The agency still excels at craft, as shown in Samsung's "Billion Color Film," a gorgeous spot for QLED color TVs depicting what it says is a miraculous 1 billion colors. To do this, the agency actually built an algorithm that could count every color in the film. Immediately following launch, awareness of the Samsung QLED was 23 percent higher than for competing brands, the agency says.
Nike's "Improv"—a duet between Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and drummer Questlove of the Roots—was a classy and refreshing take on Nike style, bringing it to a new audience with the sport's latest star.
People of color now represent close to one-third of its U.S. workforce and hold 25 percent of its leadership roles. The agency is also sourcing in-house talent with R/GA OS, an internal online platform that allows the agency's 19 offices to share different capabilities, including skills, languages, sector expertise and even currency differentiation. "It enables someone from Sydney, for example, to get to know everyone in every office," says Greenberg.
For 2018, Wacksman predicts there will be new opportunities for the agency in tech, including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, e-commerce and more. Its diverse offerings ensure inclusion in more pitches than ever before, he adds. "Our pipeline," he says, "has never been wider."