Creatives 2009: Robert Greenberg

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Robert Greenberg
Robert Greenberg
The fundamentals of being a great creative today are the same as before. A great creative is curious, conceptual, and innovative with the ability to be relevant, tell captivating stories and create new platforms. To be successful, creatives also need to keep up with latest tools and technologies, and foresee how they can help solve today's marketing problems.

I like solving problems, and our industry has no shortage of creative or conceptual problems to solve. One of the ways R/GA has managed to stay relevant over the years is by visualizing where things are headed. It's a combination of pattern recognition and understanding trends, then architecting and evolving our business in a way that that make sense, or is needed, for today. The ad industry today is going through a very difficult time. Technology has had such a tremendous impact on all aspects of our business, from advertising and marketing to design and production. Combine this with the global economic downturn and it's a perfect storm for those who haven't changed their business models. I believe our industry will undergo a transformation similar to the music business. The traditional model will be deconstructed. However, just like the music business, there will be more advertising than ever before, though created and distributed differently.

From my perspective, practically everything is better today than in the past. Back when I started out, our business was in the production of commercials and features. Although it was exciting, it was also very "vendorized." Production was much more complicated because it was done optically and on film. Today, it's digital. Plus, now we're partners with our clients, which allows our work to be more strategic and global. We no longer just execute another agency's storyboards; we develop the concepts.

There were two solidifying moments for R/GA that really stand out in my mind. In the very beginning, creating the title sequence for Superman opened a lot of doors and helped establish the company. The other was competing for and winning Nike's digital AOR in 2001. It helped us complete the transformation from a production company to a digital agency. People started to take us seriously.

The most important lesson I've learned about leadership is taken from the old adage, "You lead by example." I think that's why I work as hard as anyone else to achieve our agency's budget and high priority objectives. I also have a real interest and fascination with people and how to keep them motivated.

In 1992, we opened a West Coast office that was quite successful creatively, but not financially. I made a lot of mistakes that had a dramatic effect on how I structured R/GA as an advertising agency. Over a decade later when we decided to expand again, we figured out how to create collaboration between our offices, which was the key difference. Also, from a financial perspective, we managed the expansion in a very different way than we did back then. Today, we have offices in New York, London and San Francisco, and all of them are growing at a steady pace.

I'm self taught and always learning. I learn something new every day. I'm involved with several school boards and I chair the 4As Digital Board. Through these involvements and from the people at R/GA, I'm constantly open to new ideas.

There are several challenges in this current environment for agencies. On the client side, it's being able to measurably prove your relevance across as many aspects of a client's business as possible. On the agency side, it's finding and retaining the very best talent. In addition, agencies need to figure out how to compete with companies that are encroaching on aspects of our business. Consultancies and technology companies, such as Accenture, IDEO, and Google, for instance.

The best advice I can give during a recession is to have a plan. A recession is the best time to move into new areas of business, but first you must create the architecture for a business transition and work in a dedicated way toward that. As it turns out, we're very fortunate to have the clients we have. We don't have car companies or financial services as key parts of our business. Many of our clients are doing well despite the recession, which speaks to their strength as brands and companies. It's not completely by chance that it happened that way. It was also by design.

The last piece of work that really impressed me was the environmentally minded Fiat application, eco:Drive, by AKQA. I believe in building useful applications that can evolve into platforms and tie into communities, particularly for a good purpose like green technology.

Some people may not know that I'm very interested in architecture. Right now, I'm working on an ambitious project in upstate New York with a terrific architect. We're building a house inspired by Mies van der Rohe's iconic Farnsworth House. In my opinion, our business is most connected to architecture. We have to think systematically and pre-visualize how someone will interact with, or inhabit, what we create. The process of building a house and building an integrated platform is very similar both creatively and technically.

If I could start my career over today, I would venture into energy technology. There's a lot of innovation happening, so it's an exciting time to be in this area. I find green technologies, such as digital energy grids, geothermal power and solar wind power, very creative and challenging.

People make me laugh, especially in our industry. There are some real characters in our business.
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