It's hard to believe that a kid from Thredbo in NSW can end up with a world-renowned advertising agency and hold the record for the most Lions won at Cannes. Harder to believe that he skipped university and started up in the mailroom of Grey Advertising before a move to OMON, where an appointment as partner and creative director at just 23 set the achievement fire alight.
No matter how unlikely it sounds, it is the true career history of David Droga, founder of Droga5, an Advertising Age A-List agency and number 29 on the Fast Company '50 most innovative companies' list – the only advertising agency to make it in. Droga himself is a regular feature on Creativity magazine’s annual top 50 people influencing marketing since 2006. Now he can add a place in the AdNews Advertising Hall of Fame to the list of achievements.
When asked to put into words what this means to him, Droga pauses before replying with a laugh: “I genuinely do appreciate it. Such is my personality it makes me a little paranoid because I always ask what I’m going to do next. I’m grateful but it always makes me laugh – I’m in a few halls of fame now, it’s such an honour but I also don’t want to feel like people are shuffling me off!”
He doesn’t need to worry about that. His agency with offices in his home country (based in Sydney) as well as New York is creating cutting edge work for major clients that won’t see him or the agency disappear into the ether any time in the foreseeable future. It’s a small empire that he spent many years building to his own recipe.
After his meteoric rise at OMON under the guidance of co-founder and fellow young star Siimon Reynolds, Droga moved to Saatchi & Saatchi as regional creative director based in Singapore. At 30 he was London-bound to become executive creative director for Saatchi & Saatchi in its flagship office, before heading Publicis as worldwide chief creative officer – a position he had for three years before making the leap of faith and starting up Droga5.
“The sort of scale of the business, and the business of business [in New York] – I was shocked by it all. But it did a lot for me – it made me realise what I really wanted to do, that I could bet on myself in the business and that I could set up an agency and have good intentions. I think your intentions are more important than anything you put on paper.”
What most considered to be a huge career move throwing caution to the breeze, Droga saw differently. It was about the what he stood to gain, not what he had to lose.
“Everyone sort of says, ‘Oh, you were so brave to leave the job that everyone thought they wanted’,” Droga recounts. “But there is no risk in that. The worst that could have happened is I could have gone back and gotten another great job.” As it turned out, he was right – there was no risk and he wouldn’t need to go back. Droga5 has gone from strength to strength from day dot and has recently won some of its biggest accounts and done some of its most prolific work.
In Australia the agency won two of the most coveted accounts up for pitch in 2012 – Woolworths and Qantas – and also holds key accounts including ING Direct. In New York, it created icy fresh work for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign featuring Sarah Silverman as well as immense work for Bing that saw Droga5 publish every page of Jay-Z’s book Decoded in public areas around New York that consumers could find using Bing maps and clues. The creativity that the agency fosters is cutting edge, and Droga himself is very particular about who he hires. He freely admits that a lot of the kudos the agency receives is down to the efforts of his staff.
“I try and hire pretty smart and really restless people interested in the industry but who aren’t obsessed by the industry, they are obsessed by what is going on in the world,” he explains. “So I don’t necessarily want people with an extreme knowledge of the industry, I want people with a love of it who are also cynical enough to keep looking forward. One of the benefits of having had a lot of success is that you manage to attract a lot of great people. I think we have been able to do some pretty great things. I always say that the one thing that unites Droga5 is that no one has to be here, everyone is talented enough to get a job anywhere else.”
While the advertising industry is changing quickly, Droga thrives on keeping pace. But he is also adamant that under all the complexity of today's market, it comes down to having good intentions, something the advertising industry isn't always associated with.
“It’s still problem solving and creating ideas, we are not intimidated by any task and we don’t start by thinking about what the solution is. We start by trying to move the needle and slowly work towards what will be the right answer. Even if we are not sure how we are going to do something, if we have good intentions and proper purpose we are going to create great things.”
Droga is unarguably one of the best in the business, a business he bases on one key principle. “My goal is not to build the biggest agency in the world or the most creative or the one with the most offices – I want to build the most influential agency in the world,” he says. “To be influential you have to be effective. You have to have scale, you have to have creativity. But you also have to operate in real-world places and contribute to the real world, not just on and off shelf.”