Q&A: Accenture and Droga5 Leaders Talk Compromise, Cultural Unity and ‘Don Draper Characters’

'Every holding company has tried to broker a deal with us'

Accenture Interactive CEO Brian Whipple said negotiations lasted approximately one year. Accenture Interactive, Droga5
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It’s official: David Droga, the man who said he would never sell, has agreed to do just that.

Pending official review by the FTC and the DOJ, the ad industry’s largest consultancy and its (arguably) second best-known independent agency will soon join forces as Droga5 becomes a property of Accenture Interactive.

The news has already sparked a wave of conversations and speculation, and its effects on the creative discipline may ultimately outweigh its scale.

While Droga5 reported more than $200 million in revenue for 2017, Accenture’s marketing division brought in an estimated $7.8 billion last year, making it equivalent to a holding company the size of Interpublic Group. (That total also marked a 20 percent increase from the previous year.)

Opinions began to fly fast and furious before the organizations’ respective press teams even hit “send” on their email announcements. But to start, Adweek spoke to the two men behind the deal, Accenture Interactive CEO Brian Whipple and Droga5 founder and creative chairman David Droga, for insights on its origins and their shared future taking on a fragmented industry.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: How did the potential acquisition of Droga5 play into Accenture Interactive’s plans to expand its creative offering?
Brian Whipple: Accenture Interactive has been on a path to help clients create the most compelling experiences that they can for their consumers or their employees or their citizens, as the case may be. And we have a broad set of capabilities that doesn’t value anyone above the others, which includes digital marketing capabilities, digital content and commerce. We also have creative. But we have not been [as] strong in the context of creating compelling experiences in North America. David and his team are the best, particularly in North America; adding their team of brand strategists, creative thinkers, and David himself to our executive team will be a game changer for us, helping our clients create the greatest experiences on the planet.

Why Droga5 in particular, as opposed to an agency owned by a traditional holding company?
Whipple: A holding company strategy or culture or structure has never been in our path or in our area of interest. Our belief in Droga5 is that they are the best—not the best available, but the best. We are in a position of strength where we did not have to do this, and David and his team also did not have to do this. We’ve not ever been interested in any sort of holding company culture, transaction or extraction.

"This is where the industry is going; this is where business is going. Math and magic need each other."
David Droga, founder and creative chairman, Droga5

How will the two companies proceed, operationally speaking? And how will Droga5 be integrated into Accenture Interactive?
Whipple: We are teaming with Droga5 because we want them to continue to excel at being Droga5. We do not anticipate any near-term changes to operational things like office space and the like. They are an awesome team with a great offices in New York and London, and those will continue. Obviously, as we work on very large experience transformation work for clients, there will be an element of collaboration and teaming of resources that will hit a new level than it would have in some peripheral partnership when you’re not part of the same team. But operationally, I don’t see any near-term changes.

And you can clarify that AI will inherit all of Droga5’s existing clients?
Whipple: It is a 100 percent deal. There are no remaining equity holders, so legally and financially, that’s accurate. The creative world always needs an element of smaller projects that are purely creative in nature, [and] I don’t see that changing. Obviously, we serve large companies on large projects, so we will be tapping the minds of David and his team to pursue those large relationships with clients. That will certainly begin right away but will evolve over time.

David Droga: You know, from our history, that we are a very ambitious, forward-facing company—and you know that we want to have as much influence as possible. If this provides us with a bigger canvases, I kind of can’t think of anything more exciting than that. This is not about looking for efficiencies. This is about looking for added value and greater opportunities. Knowing the skill set that they bring, that’s going to massively enhance and amplify everything that we want to do. This isn’t about force-fitting anything.

If I was a creative person in this building, if I was a strategic person in this building, I would be more excited than I’ve ever been, because we now have the infrastructure to pull off the most ambitious ideas that we know are going to stretch beyond just the communication aspects of stuff that hits every touchpoint of a consumer—and that’s what every brand needs.

This is where the industry is going; this is where business is going. Math and magic need each other. They’re not in conflict with each other. And that’s what I think is so exciting about this. Neither of us needed to do this deal, which is the best indication that it’s a good deal.

We got to experience each other culturally several years ago [while collaborating on an unsuccessful attempt to win the U.S. Census account], and there was never any mention that this was going to lead to something. So we got to see what it was like to work with them, and they got to see what it’s like to work with us. It was very honest and naked. I don’t see any compromise in this whatsoever.

David, could you address the possibility of Droga5 collaborating with the other agencies owned by Accenture around the world?
It still comes back to, are we doing the right things, presenting the right ideas and thinking for our clients to enhance their business? That’s our starting point, and is our creative and strategy sincere to that? There’s no question they can make things possible, and pull up things that we dream up. A lot of these things we have dreamed about, we just never had the capacity to do it. That’s where this thing changes. Then as we’ve looked to the agency this morning, the alibi of us not being more audacious had gone.

"We are not really a consulting culture. Accenture Interactive's culture is very agency-like."
Brian Whipple, CEO, Accenture Interactive

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.