Reinvention or Brain Drain? Inside R/GA’s Transition

An exodus of leadership points to a new direction—whether the agency likes it or not

Something is happening at R/GA, and the long-term effects remain to be seen. R/GA

R/GA has long taken pride in its ability to reinvent itself for the times. In an industry where agency names and their selling points easily become jumbled, R/GA has managed to stand out with the promise of reinvention every nine years, a signal to brands that it’s never content with the status quo.

But a recent exodus of talent has left many wondering whether its next reinvention will come by choice or default. Six of R/GA’s leaders, including global chief innovation officer Saneel Radia, global head of brand Mike Rigby and global chief strategy officer Barry Wacksman, recently left to form an innovation consultancy.

Richard Ting, a 20-year veteran of the agency who most recently served as both global chief experience officer and U.S. co-CCO, landed at Twitter this month. Carl Desir, the agency’s DEI lead, also recently called it quits.

R/GA’s global chief marketing officer, Jess Greenwood, has left for Apple. Granted, many in the agency world likely wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to work for Apple, but her departure is the latest in a succession of exits that has certainly raised eyebrows.

While it’s striking to see this many people leave in such a short time span, R/GA global CEO Sean Lyons claims the flurry of departures come as the agency plans to reinvent itself once again, a process that began at the start of the year. Lyons said R/GA’s next phase has been designed around client needs and is separate from the leadership changes. An evolution also allows internal talent to step up and fill in these or newly created roles.

“Change brings opportunity: change in how business works, change in leadership,” he said. “On a personal level, I’ve known these people for a long time, but at a certain point it’s good to bring in new people or raise up people within the company. We value [departing staff’s] contributions, but this company has always adapted through major shifts.” 

Bob Greenberg famously started R/GA as a filmmaking company in 1973. It’s since gone through a number of iterations, including becoming a digital studio. In recent years, it’s positioned itself as an agency-consultancy hybrid of sorts, a description that Lyons appears to be leaning into as he looks ahead.

“We have two core businesses we thrive in: digital experience and digital marketing. Those are our key areas of expertise,” he explained. “The key element there is that we’re not afraid to call ourselves a company, we’re not afraid to call ourselves an agency. We’re consultative and work with clients as they need. We play a connector role between chief experience officers and chief marketing officers.”

This approach is likely why R/GA promoted Tiffany Rolfe and Ben Williams to global chief creative officer and global chief experience officer, respectively, earlier this month. The hope is that they will further bridge the gap between the agency’s creative and customer experience teams.

It’s also perhaps why Radia and the other previous leaders left, as many of them had helped build out R/GA’s consulting, or “business transformation,” practice. A source with knowledge of the agency’s operations said that Radia was instrumental in shaping this practice and viewed it as a distinct entity. Lyons, meanwhile, has made moves to more closely align the consulting practice with the agency’s other offerings under R/GA’s new direction.

The source also said that Wacksman’s decision to leave could stem from Greenberg’s departure in 2018, when he stepped down from his CEO role. According to the source, Wacksman, who joined the agency in 1999, had a very specific role under Greenberg and spent decades in a culture shaped by the legendary founder. 

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.