In April, Bob Greenberg, CCO of R/GA, addressed the management conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in Scottsdale, Ariz., and told attendees the long-established brand team is insufficient for today's competitive media market. He didn't exactly ring the death toll for traditional agencies, but it was a cautionary tale for those willing to listen.
The 58-year-old remembers a time when he was virtually laughed at for his prognostications. In earlier days it was about computer graphics, then the Internet. "People were sick of hearing about it," he says. "It is an obsession."
It is Greenberg's dedication to change that has helped him build a 400-person-strong agency that is considered by many to be a model for the future. The Clio Awards honored Greenberg with its 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award last night in Miami. "Bob Greenberg is a leader in every sense of the word, continually anticipating change and transitioning his business long before others," says Ami Brophy, executive director of the Clio Awards. Greenberg joins past inductees John Hegarty of Bartle Bogle Hegarty; Lee Clow of TBWA Worldwide; Neil French, formerly of Ogilvy & Mather and WPP; David Abbott, co-founder of Abbott Mead Vickers; and director Tony Kaye.
"Maybe I have another quarter in the gas tank," says Greenberg, discussing the recognition of his life's work at the agency's headquarters in New York. "I am very honored to be noticed."
Reflecting on the challenges he's faced since he co-founded R/GA in 1977 with his brother Richard, Greenberg notes that the biggest change he has experienced in his career is the place his agency has taken in the hierarchy of the business. Not that long ago, he says, it was a "corridor agency." "We would wait in the hall until the last 5 minutes of a pitch that was already late, and they would bring us in as presentation candy," he says. "Lots has happened since. ... Interactive is in a real spotlight today."
Interactive shops are now on the frontlines, and Greenberg's view for the coming days doesn't bode too brightly for traditional perspectives. "Advertising agencies have the wrong people and structure to be successful moving forward," he says.
Greenberg's company has transformed several times since its beginnings, and there weren't always many believers. Then known as R/Greenberg Associates, it began as a motion graphics and live-action film and video production company. It evolved into an integrated digital studio that created visual effects for more than 4,000 commercials and 400 feature films, including Alien, Predator, Seven and Zelig. It moved into the digital realm in the early to mid-'90s and was bought by True North (later bought by Interpublic Group) in 1995. When Greenberg relaunched R/GA as a dedicated interactive shop in 1998, only 10 percent of his staff stayed for the transition. It was a challenging time, he says, but like every big decision he's made in his life, he just trusted his instincts. "Sometimes when you are going to jump off a cliff, you close your eyes and just jump. I sort of do that," says Greenberg, who credits dyslexia with helping him see patterns where others may not.
R/GA, which recently opened a London office, has created award-winning Web sites and ads for clients such as Nike, Subaru, Purina and Target. One of its most-noted is a Nike ID effort that allowed Times Square pedestrians to design sneakers using their cell phones to interact with the billboard.
Today, Greenberg's mantra is to engage consumers with mobile technology. "Mobile entertainment and mobile communications with full-motion video and great sound is going to be a big thing, in my opinion," he says. "I always thought the Web was the big thing, but cell phones are much bigger. The small screen is going to be the biggest thing going forward."