As the saying goes, success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Well, today Droga5, riding a wave of revenue growth from marketers such as Kraft, Coca-Cola and Prudential, recognized its many fathers (and mothers), promoting CEO Andrew Essex to vice chairman and president Sarah Thompson to CEO. At the same time, executive creative director Ted Royer rose to chief creative officer, group cds Kevin Brady and Neil Heymann became ecds and account management chief Susie Nam added the role of general manager. Founding father and creative chairman David Droga discussed with Adweek the rationale for the moves.
Your agency has been blessed through the years with continuity in leading roles. Is there any secret to that?
You hire well and just make sure you have enough runway for everyone to grow in the company’s success. It creates loyalty and opportunity, really. We’ve grown enough where people can have the elbow room to be successful. But we do look at people’s roles and work out how we can groom, protect and nurture them. We look at things beyond just what it is today.
At bigger agencies, the title of vice chairman is sometimes the kiss of death: it’s nebulous, undefined and non-essential. But in your world, how do you define that role for Andrew Essex?
Well, Andrew has always been a fantastic partner with me. I had one foot grounded in running the day-to-day business [in the past]. But [this promotion is about] having a partner that can also help me try and map out and work out where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Sarah is a spectacular partner in this agency and really runs the day-to-day [operation]. But sometimes we have our head in the trough and sometimes we want to look over the horizon. And Andrew, right from the beginning, he wasn’t in the industry. So, he brought a really unique, different perspective to it. You can see that not only in the diversity of our clients and diversity of our output but also we’re trying to push into new places in technology. It’s good to have someone who is a day-to-day partner with me looking into those places.
Does his new job encompass looking over the horizon at where you want to be globally, what other cities you’d like to open in?
Yeah, sort of. I meant that metaphorically more than anything. I’m more obsessed with canvasses and opportunities than I am with geography as such. Not that I’m anti-global expansion. That’s inevitable but that’s not necessarily the definitive and only way we’re looking at growing. I’m not going to measure our success by pins on the map.
That said, are you considering a third office beyond New York and Sydney? Are we going to see another office in say six months’ time?
You mean like New Jersey [where Prudential is based] or something like that?
I was thinking more like Germany [where another client, Puma, is based]. But different clients, right? You have other cities on your wish list?
I think it’s inevitable we will have [another] presence—probably in Europe first. There’s been talk of that for years. And there are a lot of clients that want us to go there and there’s good reason to go. For us, it comes down to the partnership of who you’d be in business with and how that would complement our global offering.
Amsterdam? London? Germany?
There’s good reason to be in all of them. I’ve worked around the world. So, I have a soft spot for Asia, I have a soft spot for London. But I feel like again, if I open an office in Amsterdam, it wouldn’t be because I wanted to dominate the Netherlands. Or if I had an office in London, it wouldn’t be because I want to build a British agency. It would be, how can I build a global agency that just happens to be located in one of those countries?
What did you mean by new canvasses?
Other ventures, maybe in a physical space. It doesn’t need to be [just] ventures in the digital space. Other partnerships and such. Andrew is as much a great connector as a great thinker. I just want us to have the elbow room to be able to think about where we’re going because we’re an industry that really is always looking down at today, which is fine because that helps us get through the day. But then we’re always surprised as an industry when we trip ourselves up. It’s good to have a co-pilot who can help me navigate that.
What CEO qualities do you see in Sarah?
Sarah is maybe one of the calmest people I know and she’s just a natural leader of people. People trust her across all departments. She’s obviously very bright—that’s a given. She obviously subscribes to what our ambitions are, believes in the power of creativity and all that. And her bias is toward us being the smartest agency; it’s not toward any department. … Composure and intelligence go really well together in this agency because we’re a chaotic, passionate agency.
Given the agency’s success recently, I’d imagine that your leaders get approached from time to time. Are some of these promotions designed to ward off poachers?
A title can’t make you happy, you know what I mean? How much you get paid only makes you happy twice a month. At the end of the day, you really want to be in a job, in a role where you feel that you’re living up to your own potential. [These promotions] certainly were not made as a defensive move; it was made because it’s the right thing to do.