Droga5’s Ted Royer on judging Spikes, Asia expansion plans, and why the highest praise a creative can get is jealousy

Droga5Droga5 executive creative director and partner Ted Royer sat down with Miranda Ward at Spikes Asia to discuss his experience as president of the jury for film, print, outdoor and radio, the changing creative landscape in the region and plans for a Droga5 Asia office.

After being the Jury president across the traditional categories, what do you make of the state of creativity in the region?

I was a little bit nervous before coming out here because in past years I had heard some of my more cynical friends say that Asian advertising hadn’t really moved on from a lot of the formulas of the past. I think that’s bullshit.

Some of the work here is fresh and bold and innovative and great. I will judge any Asian show, I love the thinking, the surprise, the care that’s gone into the work, particularly from countries like China, India and Japan.

When I was out here those three countries weren’t doing the most creative things but now their markets and their audiences are catching up to and surpassing other markets around the world. The top work in the show is truly world class and either has won at Cannes or will win at Cannes. I am glad to say Asia is alive and thriving.

How did the traditional jury work together?

This was a wonderful jury. It was respectful and patient. I’m a big fan of everybody talking so we got opinions out of everybody. The judging was pretty close sometimes but it was pretty clear whenever something won it deserved to win. I didn’t have to nudge them that much. They made intelligent decisions and decisions that they were proud of.

Was there any particular country you were impressed by during the judging?

Japan is doing phenomenal work, very different type of work. Japan is one of the great creative countries of the world right now. China has really come into its own, there was a whole bunch of Chinese work that was truly exceptional.

I miss Thai humour, I saw a lot of beautiful Thai spots. No one does emotion and humour like the Thais. But I was hoping for more Thai humour because that used to be my favourite thing about Asian advertising. Thais do funny commercials better than anybody else in the world.

There are some pieces from India that I found delightful and powerful. Two pieces come to mind, one was a Google spot and one was a Nike spot, that I think were done with a level of taste and craft that is fantastic.

I’m so happy that I’m incredibly jealous of a lot of this work. The highest praise you can get from a creative is jealousy, and when I’d see a piece and say ‘I’m fucking jealous’ then I’d know it was great.

In the entered work, were there any particular themes that were popular?

We were joking that both Japan and China love to play pranks on their family members and surprise them in ways that make them cry. It seems like a lot of people don’t talk very well, there were a lot of campaigns about people telling them they love them for the first time on film and capturing people by surprise to the point it started to seem mean almost. That made for some very moving and emotional work.

I’d have to say a lot of the work was pretty diverse and beautiful.

How does the region compare to the US?

It’s hard to compare an entire region with so many diverse regions to the US. Not having judged digital, America is digital crazy. Social media is an incredibly expressive form that’s growing in front of our eyes. We created a whole social media lab inside Droga5 now to handle the volume of social that we’re doing and they handle it well. I can’t speak to how they’re handling that in Asia.

Only compared to the US in the categories that I judged, I think it’s right up there to the US. The US is doing some great work, Asia is doing phenomenal work. I don’t think there’s a quality difference between the top pieces from both countries.

What do you think are the main challenges in the region?

Hard to say, talking to my colleagues in China they have difficulty getting clients on board with more innovative thinking. I think Japan is ahead of the curve with so much stuff, they do wonderful work. These are huge markets, China and India are huge markets that in some places still feel like they’re emerging. I feel great with the creatives on the ground there in those countries, if they keep doing what they’re doing the industry is going to be better than its ever been.

I worry about little Singapore, I hear things are tough here. It used to be the creative mecca of Asia, I don’t know if that’s the case anymore. And again, where’s the Thai funny?

Are they different to the challenges in the US?

The US is pretty healthy right now, the economy is really healthy. The one thing I want to see more of in the US is more independent agencies really succeeding.

I’d love to see more of a sense of community between the agencies. Over here, they all know each other, they all reach out to each other and work together, there’s more of a sense of community and in Australia especially. They all go to the same pub as each other, they all know each other, and while they may slag each other off in the Campaign Brief blog, they still root for each other and they’re still good mates.

In America, things are pretty disjointed and I don’t see agencies cheering for each other at all. If Wieden + Kennedy does well, the industry does well. If a new startup, my friend started an agency Preacher in Texas, if that does well, we all win because if they do great creative work and they build a company, it gets better, it gets bigger.

If everything is held by three or four holding companies, how great is that for the industry?

We like to say, 49 per cent was bought by William Morris, they’re not in advertising, so them buying us and using our influence with them and vice versa that makes the industry bigger because we can tap into more resources then ever. If say WPP had bought us that would have made the industry smaller. If Publicis and Omnicom merged that just makes the industry smaller. I’m cheering for independent agencies and things that make the industry more robust and bigger and give us better voices and help us prove that advertising doesn’t have to be just noise. It can really contribute to culture in better ways.

Is it hard to attract and retain good talent?

Not from other agencies and people who want ad jobs. I have lost two people to an app startup, so I do feel competition from tech companies because it’s incredibly exciting to be in a tech startup and it’s just as fast-moving and creative as advertising has ever been. So we need to prove we can be as fast-moving and creative as the most fast-moving tech company.

Also right now freelance in America is incredibly robust, people can get paid directly from agencies more money than any agency could ever pay them. I understand why freelancers don’t want to be tied down. It’s a little hard and if its hard for Droga5 I can only imagine what its like for one of the big networks.

As an industry we need to prove to young people why we’re a good destination over a Google or an Apple because they are incredibly attractive companies. Part of that is what Droga5’s trying to do, we’re trying to prove we’re one of the most creative companies in the world and if you could go anywhere you should still come to us.

When looking for new talent, what are the skills you are after?

I’ll speak for creatives, we don’t separate departments. Every creative should be able to work in everything. We don’t look for a technical skill, we look for an understanding and a desire to work in every media and to come up with ideas that can work across every media. When I see an all print book I’m not going to hire that person, I want to see thinking that’s so big it transcends boundaries. I always tell this story, I hired two guys from Sweden because the first idea in their book was so good, it was a business idea it was so good and the next one was almost as good so I closed the book and said lets talk about money. I didn’t need to see a long-copy ad or some banners that they had done, I didn’t need to see proof they can be in advertising, I need to see proof of powerful thinking that crosses borders.

Who is doing work that inspires you?

I always get inspired by Wieden + Kennedy, they are a fantastic agency. What are they, 30, 35 years old? A shining beacon of being great year after year, all due respect to Widen.

Any particular campaigns you’ve been impressed by?

They did an Old Spice campaign that was just 15-second ads that were like 70s songs and they were so fucking stupid, awesome and absurd. I said to one of my friends ‘I feel like I was put on earth to make that campaign and someone did it before me’. I loved it so much, it was so absurd.

What’s underrated and unsung is the work that Ogilvy continue to do for IBM year after year. They do amazing work that seems to get ignored at awards shows. They got awarded for that moving the atoms around, which was lovely and beautiful and great. I think they’re a strong workhorse who deserve more then they get.

Are there any plans or ambitions for an office in Asia?

Talk about it all the time, sure. We just want to get it right with the right partners. The typical cities come up, Shanghai, Mumbai. Yes, you’ll probably see an Asian office from us in a couple of years. When we open offices, we first and foremost open it with partners that we love. We believe business will come if we get the right people on the ground with the right sense of mission that we have.

London is doing really well, they’re up to about 35 people and they’re less than a year old.

Sydney is still winning business and doing ok and New York just passed 300 people. We’re growing super fast.


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