R/GA: Digital AOY ’09

At a time when the agency world is shrinking, there’s one number that stands out at R/GA: 100. That’s the number of open positions at the Interpublic Group digital agency that’s the gold standard of interactive shops. Already envied for its work for brands like Nike, Verizon and Nokia, R/GA had a gangbusters new business year in 2009, scooping up major wins with Walmart and MasterCard. It added to its bounty Taco Bell and lead agency duties for Ameriprise Financial. At a time when shops were treading water, R/GA grew 5 percent, laid the groundwork for offices in Singapore and Brazil, and expanded its offices in London and San Francisco. Along the way, R/GA delivered its regular stellar digital creative, crafting what was arguably Pepsi’s best campaign of the year with “Dear Mr. President,” developing the brand identity for Barnes & Noble’s Nook eBook reader, and breakthrough digital out-of-home installations for American Eagle and Verizon’s Droid launch. Barry Wacksman, R/GA’s chief growth officer, believes the key to the agency’s success is its focus on business transformation: “All our clients have the same challenge: they have commoditized products and services that need innovation.” For that focus and continued track record of delivering success for clients, R/GA is Adweek’s Digital Agency of the Year, the fifth time it has won the honor. To see what makes R/GA so unique, Adweek spent the day at the shop’s headquarters in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan.

9:35 > Chanel Web Site Debugging
John Mayo-Smith, R/GA’s soft-spoken chief technology officer, sits at a conference table facing a wall filled with problems. The projection screen holds the bug database for a new Web site R/GA is rushing to release for luxury brand Chanel. The 70 bugs sometimes seem excruciatingly minor. They also ring  familiar with anyone who has arrived at a Web site only to find it doesn’t work the way it should. It’s a moment of disappointment and frustration, two things Mayo-Smith and the 10 R/GA staffers would rather their users not experience. “These bugs take on a life of their own,” Mayo-Smith says. The Chanel team  flips between the bug database and the test site. They debate how to handle the top 15 keywords and how to display “limited edition.” The language selector, with its extra large text, is wonky. Finally, the team turns its attention to a major issue: For fraud reasons, Chanel only allows customers to fill their  shopping carts with four items of each product, yet the site does not display an explanation if a shopper goes back to add a fifth. That could lead to a bad user experience. Mayo-Smith and his team know they still have work to do.

10:08 > Creative Council
Armed with morning fuel from the coffee bar in the hallway, 15 R/GA
creative directors amble into a conference room for a meeting of CCO Nick Law’s creative council. Law quickly turns to R/GA’s ambition to expand into traditional advertising. “All that stuff we spent a lot of time saying isn’t important is now part of the mix,” he says. But not always. Each team is constructed according to client needs. Walmart’s, for instance, has three “pods”: platform, social and campaigns. In the past, R/GA has at times pooh-poohed the importance of campaigns, trumpeting instead the long-lasting quality of a platform like Nike+. Now it looks for a balance. Nike ecd Jill Nussbaum runs a site for the Zoom Kobe V shoe. The site, targeted to teen boys, mixes video highlights showing basketball star Kobe Bryant’s killer instinct with a gaming element. R/GA shot video of Kobe, then stitched it together with game clips. “That campaign thinking has helped the platform,” Nussbaum says. Law closes the meeting by reminding his team that R/GA’s mission to be an “innovation engine” for clients can be, at times, a long process. “Most of our successes don’t happen immediately,” he says. “Solve the client’s problem immediately and couple that with things that can change their business.”