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Always looking forward: The industry puts its questions to R/GA founder, CEO and chairman, Bob Greenberg

Earlier this year Bob Greenberg, founder, chairman and CEO of R/GA, was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame having reaffirmed his commitment to continue to lead the agency for another five years. To celebrate his continued achievements, The Drum posed some questions from leading figures in the marketing agency scene for him to relay his insight and experience in return.

Nils Leonard, ECD, Grey London: Looking back to the start, is there anything you wish you'd done differently?

BG: I don’t look back, but I don’t think so. We continue to implement just slightly behind the curve and we’re changing lots of things every week, every year. I’ll continue to do that so that we are not sorry that we didn’t do this or that.

Paul Frampton, CEO, Havas Media: R/GA has continually moved with the times, but what happens each time you decide to push the ag

BG: It’s well known that we change things up every nine years and the reason for that is that the agency business that grew into these big global agency networks happened because of the impact of technology, and at the time of Ogilvy or Leo Burnett, the technology that changed everything was television.What we’ve been focused on has been the change of internet, mobile, social and going back to television. That started in 2013, which was our fourth or fifth nine-year cycle. Our new model really deals with the changing media landscape, television, functional integration and the connection between consulting, products and services and communications. There are a lot of things I’ve been looking at. The way that I do it is based on pattern recognition and you can get a very good understanding of these changes from where I sit. It’s not just about the changes – you have to not look back. You have to be ready to jump forward and you have to put a great effort into restructuring things when others in our industry are doing nothing.

Stephen Lepitak, online editor, The Drum: What do you foresee disrupting traditional agency models and structures going forward?

BG: The impact of technology on the traditional model. When I first started, people were very critical of digital, for lack of a better term, and they didn’t think it would amount to anything. We have seen the same behaviour between Blockbuster and Netflix. We’ve seen the same behaviour with the music industry and we’ve seen the same behaviour with the loss of the value of TV commercials. What I see, oddly enough, is a lot of agencies actually pulling back from digital, which is interesting. They really had not made the investment and they have not taken the hard choices – they are being disrupted by it and are sort of in denial.

David Miller, managing director, Red Brick Road: For you, where do art and advertising meet, and are the two interchangeable?

BG: There’s art in advertising, but art in general is very different. I’m an art collector and I am involved in museum and curatorial stuff. They are very different. There’s a lot of creativity in so-called digital, and in digital advertising particularly. We have one of the largest creative teams in the industry right now – in New York alone we have 200 creatives, and they could come out of an art background and be very creative as writers, designers and so many other things. They really are different.

Wayne Deakin, ECD, formerly Engine and Jam: Should digital agencies stop calling themselves 'digital' as everything is digital?

BG: I don’t think so. I collect something called Outsider Art and everyone wanted to change the name because they said it was derogatory. But I said to the Museum of American Folk Art that ‘Folk Art’ was derogatory. People get to the right conversation level, regardless of everything being digital. Digital is still traditional.

Daniele Fiandaca, head of innovation, Cheil Worldwide: What technologies or human behaviour changes currently excite you?

BG: I am most excited about two things. Firstly, what is going to happen when you tie virtual and physical together in new and innovative ways? The most interesting things in art right now are in architecture, where the greatest architects are taking the newest innovations in design and structure and taking the most advanced thinking about the web, mobile and social, and integrating them into the physical space. The other thing is what’s happening with television, which leads to content, which leads to media. It’s something that was considered by many within the digital realm as somewhat dead, but it’s coming back to be the thing that will lead where things go in future, and that’s new TV.

Jason Andrews, ECD, Rapp: When it comes to data use, where is the role for conceptual creativity?

BG: It’s a misunderstanding that data can give you what you want, when you want it. That’s bullshit. When you have a strong relationship with the data, it’s actually very similar to media. We have the term earned media versus paid media, and the same thing has happened with data. Data is sold to people and aggregated and has nothing to do with what you want, when you want it or how you want it delivered. But earned data is very different. If you create a product that is really great, you’ll earn the right from the people involved to use their data to enhance that particular relationship.

Marco Scognamiglio, CEO, Rapp: Which brand delivers a truly positive customer experience at every point of engagement?

BG: There may be others, but we come into contact with Apple, Google, Amazon and Nike. Those companies do such an extraordinary job. Some are clients, some aren’t, but they are showing everybody what needs to be done. All of them are exciting. I know a lot about all of them, some confidentially, and so we know a lot of what is coming up but I can’t talk about it.

Steve Vranakis, ECD EMEA, Google: R/GA’s title sequence for Se7en has been called one of the best of all time. What inspired it?

BG: My brother Richard, who founded R Greenberg Associates, which became R/GA, with me (he’s really Dick and I’m Bob). We worked on over 400 movies and he became like the next Saul Bass. He had offers to work at Saul Bass and Pablo Ferro. Those were the interesting places. We had worked before with David Fincher and I was going to start a company with him that got disrupted because he got Se7en. Then Kyle Cooper, who was the star student of father of graphic design Paul Rand at Yale – and one of the centenary award winners last month – shot the second unit for Se7en and took it to another level. My artwork collection was very instrumental as well. It then came together with Nine Inch Nails (we’ve been working with Trent Reznor recently on the launch of Beats Music). Trent did the music and the whole thing just came together in the ways that things do.

Nicky Bullard, ECD, Lida What was the last creative idea that gave you 'the tingle'?

BG: There is one and it happened very recently. I can’t talk about the client, but I can talk about it being our Sao Paulo office and it was a collaborative effort. I looked at it and I said ‘this is fucking great’. And I saw something else that was just about at the same level recently, but this one really took me by surprise. It was the pitch piece that was so beautifully executed, and now we’re working on it … It’s a new product and service that we’ll be testing in the Brazilian market but I can’t say any more right now.The interview was originally published in The Drum Magazine issue from 14 May, available to buy in The Drum store.

World, Bob Greenberg, Advertising