Did R/GA’s Siloed Structure Push Rob Rasmussen Back to Traditional?

By Matt Van Hoven 

On November 18th, R/GA ECD Rob Rasmussen e-mailed his coworkers to say he’d be moving on to Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) to “help them evolve their creative product.” But the subtext of a recent AdWeek profile of the once-befauxhawked creative and recently obtained insider R/GA info indicate that his departure may have had more to do with R/GA’s siloed infrastructure than the article lets on.

From AdWeek: Of his decision to return to the traditional agency fold, Rasmussen points to one of BBH’s strongest client case histories, Johnnie Walker. When the agency pitched and won the business in 1999, he says, it distilled the brand’s essence into the idea of it having forward momentum, leading to the long-running tagline, “Keep walking.” “They didn’t say, ‘Here are a bunch of executions,'” he says. “They said, ‘Here is our POV and everything we do will play off this starting point.’ [Digital creatives] need that type of focus. … I think it’s a mistake to say that there’s this great technology and I’m just going to connect it to different clients. If you start with a core truth, you can take it anywhere.'”


Click continued to see how this might say more about R/GA than meets the eye.

More: “Rob Rasmussen Departs R/GA for BBH

According to a source close to the agency, Rasmussen’s remark, “I think it’s a mistake to say that there’s this great technology and I’m just going to connect it to different clients. If you start with a core truth, you can take it anywhere,” flies in the face of R/GA’s core. “People here see digital as the idea, not as media” said the spy.

Specifically, take Nike, an account that occupied the vast majority of Rasmussen’s time. The execution is a stand alone application that’s been equated to some Google apps &#151 it’s not meant to be advertising, it’s a tool.

Says our spy on Nike+, the project that CCO Nick Law ECD’d before his promotion: “It’s a great piece of digital work, and it helps to build the brand, but it’s an application, not really ‘advertising’. That doesn’t mean it should be dismissed, cuz it’s clearly awesome but you can’t build a brand on an app. I can’t take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard. I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand.”

Again, our spy refers to Google, noting that the comparison is flawed because much of their “advertising” isn’t really advertising at all. Rather, Google produces application after application that people need and want to use. The products sell themselves, and the advertising behind them pays the bills.

“Most clients cannot do that,” said our spy. “Nike can’t launch 15 useful sports apps this year. If they could, then r/ga would be right.”

The equivalent would be Nike giving away free shoes or windbreakers, for example. Or Nike Sparq, another application born of R/GA’s talent.

So what are R/GA employees to take away from Rasmussen’s profile? Well, in this case, possibly that he thinks the agency lacks a bigger picture mentality. Recall this quote: “I think it’s a mistake to say that there’s this great technology and I’m just going to connect it to different clients. If you start with a core truth, you can take it anywhere.”

Translated: develop an idea and spread it across myriad platforms. You know, media-neutrality, or media-passionate, as Dean Crutchfield calls it.

But it would be wrong to think R/GA doesn’t create work that’s media-passionate. Yes, they’re digital at heart, but all one can assume that to mean is that they have the skills traditional agencies hire out for.

Spy again: “The thing is, though, that r/ga is siloed, and the kind of work Robert would rather be doing is getting done on nokia. The nokia team launched the ‘open to anything’ campaign last year. The strategy was to label phone carriers as ‘closed’ because they shut their phones off to outside sources. So you couldn’t get cool apps and technology on your phone cuz verizon and at&t etc didn’t want to play nice.”

But Nokia’s “N” series phone (which R/GA was paid to launch) works with any carrier, provides an open platform rich with useful tools. The execution was, you guessed it, launched across the board of traditional and new media pathways.

Unfortunately, Rasmussen didn’t work on that campaign. He did work on the Ad Council, which is supposedly launching a media-passionate campaign in January. But because Nike equates to about 20 percent of the agency’s business, Rasmussen likely didn’t have the time to work on Ad Council.

Bottom line: it can’t be easy to be a traditionalist at R/GA. With a digital heart, traditional blood can’t flow as smoothly as it would at say, BBH. And as an ECD, Rasmussen couldn’t cherry pick his staff. With 120 some odd digi-heads beneath him on Nike, well the dude was probably in quite the pickle.

This all begs the question: was Rasmussen trapped inside R/GA’s biggest silo as ECD on Nike? Consider the opening line of the AdWeek profile, wherein Eleftheria Parpis writes, “The best way to succeed in advertising, says Robert Rasmussen, newly named ecd innovation at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, is to never get too comfortable.” Or at least, don’t get stuck in one place.

See the full AdWeek profile here.