Work In Progress

It is a couple of weeks before Cannes and David Droga, the film and press jury president, is bracing himself for a festival experience that he’s not used to. Not only will he have to spend most of his time inside the Palais, helping the juries pick Lions out of about 4,800 Film and 7,300 Press entries, but the 37-year-old former worldwide creative director of Publicis Worldwide has little work entered in the competition this year—and none in the two contests he’s presiding over.

Droga, who’s won more Lions than he can count with TV and print ads for agencies such as Publicis and Saatchi & Saatchi, is becoming increasingly known for his nontraditional endeavors. His 3-month-old Publicis-backed New York-based venture, Droga5, is currently working on a project for General Electric—and it will be anything but traditional. Droga and his team are collaborating with architects Philippe Starck and William McDonough, who specializes in sustainable design, to create what one GE executive describes as “a showcase for GE at the Olympic Games in Beijing,” he says. “We’re trying to build a legacy for GE in China.”

The details of the project are still very much under wraps, but the concept is unusual enough to warrant the attention of Murderball co-director Henry Alex Rubin, who is filming the process for a future documentary.

As much as Droga talks about expanding beyond advertising, he stresses that his ad skills are still at the core of his business. “It’s one avenue,” he says. “Our industry from a strategic and creative side can impact business far greater than just the marketing side. We’re ideas people.”

Droga, who in his native Australia became a partner and ecd of Omon in Sydney at the ripe old age of 22, named his shop after the tags his mother used to sew inside his clothes when he went to boarding school, marking his order in a family of five brothers and two sisters.

Droga5, he says, is a “work in progress.” He admits he doesn’t have the business model entirely figured out yet, but so far, a handful of clients have signed up for “the experiment” with him. In addition to GE, which had worked with Droga in his global Publicis role, the shop’s briskly growing client roster includes Marc Ecko Enterprises, Magnum Photos and PBS Kids. The company, say both Droga and Marshall, is also close to finalizing relationships with a youth beverage brand and an automotive company. Plus, several new hires are in the works, including a publishing world celeb who will join the company as a partner, and creative additions such as Ben Nott, from TBWA\Chiat\Day, who starts next month as a creative director, and an undisclosed creative director from Wieden + Kennedy.

“Almost everything we’re involved in right now is different and a challenge,” says Duncan Marshall, a partner in Droga5 and former executive creative director of Publicis in New York.”It is about any aspect of brand communications that involves original creativity.”

The Droga5 team, whose numbers are quickly inching up past a handful to what Marshall expects will be 40-plus by the end of the year, is applying its creative resources to everything from viral branding for Ecko to script writing for PBS. Natasha Lance Rogoff, a former Sesame Street executive producer who is developing a children’s show for PBS in South Carolina, met Droga earlier this year at The World Economic Summit at Davos, Switzerland, where he took part in a panel discussion titled “Beyond the 30-Second Brand.”

Droga5 is working with Lance Rogoff on all aspects of Finky’s Kitchen, which is an animated cooking show that teaches children about healthful nutrition. The finished pilot is expected by fall. “Their involvement is what I would call creative intelligence, just bringing good ideas to the table,” says Lance Rogoff. “They’re really good storytellers.”

Each segment will be available on TV, the Internet and mobile devices, taking into account the way kids use digital media, she adds. The show will first launch in the U.S., with success possibly leading to global syndication. It is here where the relationship may turn from its current pro bono status to a money-making proposition.

“Droga5 has allowed me to dip into these relationships and experiment on how I want to work,” Droga says, describing his client relationships. “With some clients, it’s fee-based; some clients, it’s a stake in the business; some clients, I’m doing it at no cost. I’m playing with different templates.”

Droga emphasizes that he is not “walking away from advertising.” At Cannes, Droga5 has entered an Internet-based campaign for clothing designer and graffiti-rights advocate Marc Ecko—its first creative to reach the public, which is competing in the Media and Titanium contests. The shop created what appeared to be clandestine footage of a graffiti artist tagging Air Force One. The clip was seeded on the Internet, and word spread quickly. The Pentagon publicly declared the defacement never happened.

“It’s been amazing,” says Droga of his first few months in business. Until now, he’s been limited by industry restraints. He’s building his company the way he wants to, striking partnerships with various companies for different ventures. For example, he’s partnered with production company Smuggler, which produced the Air Force One film, on a branded entertainment and distribution company. “It sounds messy, and maybe it is,” he says. “But it is allowing us to play, which is all we really want.”

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