R/GA is Ad Age 2020 A-List Comeback Agency of the Year
R/GA has had a big beret to fill, as agency executives put it, since Co-Founder Bob Greenberg stepped down as CEO in late 2018. The legendary Greenberg remains around as executive chairman, but such a big change at the top could have derailed a lesser agency.
Not R/GA. The shop added $54 million in net new business last year with a specific strategy to go after “new economy” tech clients, which accounted for half its haul. New agency-of-record clients for the Interpublic Group of Cos.’ agency include Google Play, Instagram and Slack, along with project work for Airbnb and Uber Autonomous Technology Group. New assignments also came from more traditional clients including PepsiCo, Universal Music Group, Mattel and Jim Beam.
The transition from Greenberg has been smooth, says Global CEO Sean Lyons, because “working with Bob so many years, I was prepared for this. The big issue for us is to embrace change. Bob has been terrific as a mentor in helping us make this change. The biggest thing for us has been moving from a more traditional team of managers to a more collaborative way of management.”
The shift has largely been a change from trying to instill tech-company culture into more traditional marketers to simply doing more work for the tech companies themselves. “What we found with the new-economy clients is that they came to us because we were a modern brand,” says Lyons. “We work the way they work. We’re built the way they work. We have a design and technology background. Our languages are the same.”
“We defined ourselves as the Special Forces for the new economy, going after these clients in that way,” says Tiffany Rolfe, U.S. chief creative officer of R/GA. “We get how to build a brand when we experience the brand. With Slack, we use Slack. We have a Slackbot. We know when our ping-pong table in New York isn’t being used based on Slack.”
Well, OK, an agency at the moment doesn’t need Slack anymore to know when its ping-pong table isn’t being used, because it never is amid coronavirus lockdowns. But a culture of tech connectedness enabled by Slack also helped R/GA adapt to that reality.
Even before the current crisis, 30 percent of all R/GA work was happening across offices, Lyons says, “so most of our teams are used to collaborative work from a distance.”
R/GA played an important role for another new tech client last year—Instagram—by developing a proprietary system to serve huge volumes of 15-second videos on the Stories platform. It combines a digital asset management system, content management system and automated aftereffects. Within two weeks, the system inspired a million new users to create their first Instagram Stories, which helps in the platform’s competition with Snapchat.
R/GA also helped Nike chase its next generation of customers by creating Nike PLAYlist, a content series hosted by 10-year-old Sky Brown, the world’s youngest professional skateboarder. While longer episodes run on YouTube, PLAYlist’s interaction happens on TikTok through a segment called “TheReplay,” where kids share tricks and stunts. By late last year, PLAYlist already had garnered 3.1 billion views on TikTok and 1 million submissions for challenges in Nike’s first activation on the platform, plus 6 million views of longer-form content on YouTube.
Relatively little of R/GA’s revenue comes from conventional advertising. Approximately 40 percent of revenue comes from product and service design; 15 percent from consulting; 5 percent from its ventures and intellectual property unit, including licensing; and 40 percent from a range of communications services that includes brand creative, data science, media planning and buying.
The consulting piece focuses on innovation, and isn’t like most other consultancies inside or outside the agency holding company world, says Saneel Radia, exec VP and chief innovation officer. “The first difference is that we’re consultants who actually make things,” Radia says. “We don’t sell by time. We sell by output.”
In other words, R/GA doesn’t do much organizational redesign—at least not of the cost-cutting variety—or technology consulting. It’s mainly about product development, sometimes to create a tangible product at the back end of another consultantcy’s work, Radia says.
For private hospital network AdventHealth, that meant rethinking the patient experience. Radia says it started by looking at patients requiring the most care, the chronically ill. And it ended with Care Advocacy, a program in which a single person serves as point of contact with each patient to coordinate appointments and care while offering advice, enabled by an artificial- intelligence dashboard and a networking program.
The idea is to improve care while freeing up physicians’ time. “R/GA is a leader in creating meaningful innovation,” says Nicholas Archer, senior VP of consumer innovation at AdventHealth. “Against a tide of chronic health conditions and aging populations, we’ve built the Care Advocacy program together to enable human connections and build stronger relationships.”