Artificial Intelligence David Droga Agencies

Accenture Song, one year on: ‘We have all the pieces, we just need to connect them’


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

June 15, 2023 | 9 min read

The group’s top creative, Nick Law, shares how things have gone since it announced its major merger and rebrand last year, arguing that the Accenture Song model represents the future of the industry.

nick law accenture

Nick Law joined Accenture Song from Apple last year / Accenture Song

It’s an odd fact of the advertising industry that just a handful of creative agency groups are led by career creatives. Funnily enough, the largest is one that, until recently, had the least creative reputation within the industry – David Droga’s Accenture Song.

“To me, it was deeply ironic that the company that put a creative person in as CEO was Accenture,” says Nick Law, the network’s creative chair.

“I always thought that somehow we had lost our way a little bit as an industry because product people had surrendered leadership. The creative culture in some big agencies has become infantilized,” he adds. “So I always admired David [Droga], and obviously Dan [Wieden] when he was running Wieden+Kennedy, because they were creative people running a company. It was actually something Steve Jobs talked about when he came back to Apple – how important it is to have product people in charge.”

Droga’s appointment, Law says, “was a clear signal to me that they were serious about creativity.”

Relevance and growth

Law is proof that perception is changing. A creative of significant reputation himself, established first within the “Bauhaus” atmosphere of R/GA in the early 2000s as its chief creative officer, and later with gigs at Publicis and Apple, he was tempted back east last February. He arrived just a few weeks before the group’s new identity was revealed. The brand remade Accenture’s clutch of agencies in the consultancy – and Droga’s – image, collapsing well-regarded names such as Fjord and Karmarama into the Accenture Song umbrella, while leaving Droga5 intact.

Every rebrand arrives with a “weird, wobbly moment,” he says. “Some of the [acquired agencies] were a little unsure. But it’s remarkable how quickly things normalize.”

“The difference between when I did my first little tour after Cannes, and my two most recent trips… it’s definitely a tighter network than it was. The vision and the direction of the company are starting to cohere.”

It’s also paying off financially. Song’s revenue grew from $12.5bn in 2020-21 to $16bn in 2021-22, an increase of almost 22%. That puts it close to par with the performance of the industry’s largest agency groups, such as WPP (which pulled in around $17.6bn in revenue last year).

And a host of industry veterans have joined Law since the rebrand, including his R/GA comrade Sean Lyons and Publicis UK country head Annette King.

“As a creative person or someone who’s from the agency world, if you’re looking to do something a little bit different, maybe more challenging, you’re comforted by the fact that there are people [here] that know what good work looks like running the place,” he says.

Those moves have added a sheen to the consultancy network, suggesting it might be more than a silent, sleek cash machine. Meanwhile, it has aimed to maintain growth with acquisitions in markets of increasing importance, such as the purchase of Indonesian agency Romp.

“We’ve got all the pieces. Connecting those pieces in the right way is the thing I’m putting all my time on now,” he says. “The first act of an innovative company is to design itself and the act of designing a company is really just understanding what sort of connections you need.”

Law argues that Song’s model might be the biggest change in the industry since the 50s. “The most consequential innovation in the advertising world was in the late 50s when Bernbach connected art directors and copywriters. That unleashed the creative revolution – there’s a bunch of work, which is just qualitatively different from everything that came before it.

“But even though the world has changed so drastically since then… a lot of these agencies are still structured that way. So when I think about this sort of ongoing exercise of being a creative company, I think about what we are trying to get out of those connections and how often we need to change them. Companies don’t think about that a lot. They leave it up to the economy of good intentions.”

He says the company’s focus on client growth sets it apart. “The closest thing we have to a tagline is ’growth through relevance’. It’s not just that we’re doing both, it’s that we understand the two things can act together. You will grow as a company when you are relevant to your consumers. Pulling those two things apart can create bad outcomes.”

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New grammar

That mantra is central to Song, and Law’s, approach to generative AI. He says creatives must engage with the technology now, in order to inform the ‘grammar’ that emerges in coming years.

“Generally when a new technology comes along it takes a while for fluency in that technology to happen – especially for creative people,” he explains.

“The early photographers were chemists – not artists. But soon it became a democratic enough medium that creative people came into the game. When I look at the creative side of generative AI, it still looks like we’re using the old grammar,” he says.

He points to the often-derided visual outputs of those using Midjourney or Stable Diffusion for image-making. “A lot of the image generally looks a lot like what the engineering community finds interesting, which is sci-fi. A larger and more diverse and sophisticated use has not yet been figured out.”

Accenture is “moving quick” to invest in AI capabilities, says Law. The firm plans to invest $3bn over the next three years in the area, hiring 40,000 specialists and establishing accelerator units to target 19 separate client sectors. And its creative business will be part of that effort.

“Our intention is not to wait for the technicians to come up with a grammar. It’s to have creative people work close to technologists to discover new grammars for a new medium that has different potentials and different constraints.”

“My task is to make sure that creative people are working with technologists, and experimenting, you know, and building things and like, you know, theory is informed by practice, not the other way around.”

“AI, in general, is both a business tool and a way to express creativity,” he says, echoing that ‘growth through relevance’ mantra. “It’s those two things coming together.”

Artificial Intelligence David Droga Agencies

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