Execs Gauge Winds of Change

MIAMI Agency executives gathered here for the 47th International Clio Awards celebrated the work of R/GA CEO Bob Greenberg and mulled steps agencies must take to adapt to the changing advertising landscape.

The theme of change was best exemplified by the decision to give the Lifetime Achievement Award to Greenberg, who has long called for agencies to reinvent themselves to stay relevant.

Howard Draft, CEO of fellow Interpublic Group shop Draft Worldwide, lauded Greenberg at last night’s Lifetime Achievement Award presentation and reception as a “true visionary” for evolving R/GA from a digital film shop to its latest incarnation as a prototype for a new agency model built around consumer engagement in digital channels.

“What Bob has built is a company that sets trends and never follows,” said Draft, who took the stage dressed in black and wearing a beret in a nod to Greenberg’s fashion sensibility.

R/GA has garnered attention for its innovative uses of digital touch points for clients like Nike, Target and Verizon.

The shop created a film to celebrate Greenberg’s award, highlighting its work over the years, including the Nike digital billboard in Times Square that let users design their own shoes.

For his part, Greenberg, who self-deprecatingly described himself as a “serial underperformer” with a spotty academic record, again warned the assembled agency leaders that they must embrace new models outside of traditional media to connect consumers with brands.

“I believe 30-second spots are the most ineffective way to change customer behavior,” Greenberg said. “It’s not going to be the basis of marketing communications going forward.”

He encouraged agencies to rethink their structures, which in Greenberg’s view are still wedded to churning out mass-reach campaigns.

“Change is very difficult to do,” he said, “particularly when you have to do it as a juggling act” of maintaining existing business.

Greenberg said despite a slow embrace of new consumer-engagement methods, he is optimistic about the ad industry.

“Change is good,” he said in his closing remarks. “Be fearless.”

Not everyone agrees with Greenberg’s hypothesis that traditional agencies have not adjusted to fit the emerging digital media landscape. In a presentation this morning titled “We’re in Charge of the Big Dead Agency. Or Is It the Dead Big agency?” Ogilvy co-chief creative officers Jan Leth, David Apicella and Chris Wall all took cracks at explaining how the agency is evolving.

“It’s not about whether agencies are big or small,” said Leth, noting that his own elevation to chief creative officer alongside Apicella and Wall speaks volumes about how the agency is placing interactive on an equal footing with other media.

“Big egos are dead,” he said. “The ones who succeed now are the ones who recognize the need for collaboration.”

Wall went further, disputing the notion that the changes going on now in media consumption are anything new. In the end, he said, good creative ideas give brands humanity and help them build businesses. He pointed to Ogilvy’s work for IBM, which used mass media extensively to build IBM from a brand value of negative $50 million when it got the account to $53 billion now. “I’m puzzled by the angst of the future of advertising,” he said.

The real challenge, Wall added, is dealing with procurement departments, which he called “spreadsheet jockeys,” that treat agencies like vendors.

“We have been conned into selling bodies and hours instead of ideas,” he said.