Digital Innovation Agency of the Year 2014: R/GA London

Placing its faith in Beats has paid off handsomely for the London outpost of the US digital giant, but quality work for Heineken, Google and Unilever illustrated the agency's strength in depth.

  • Beats

    Beats

  • Beats Pills

    Beats Pills

  • Beats

    Beats

  • Beats

    Beats

  • Heineken

    Heineken

  • Williams and Roberts

    Williams and Roberts

  • Greenberg

    Greenberg

  • Sobral

    Sobral

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Success did not come quickly for R/GA London. Over the years, numerous staffers – sometimes even the founder, Bob Greenberg, himself – have gone on the record promising that the London office’s time was just around the corner.

And, after each false dawn, the promises lost a little more credibility.

But, after nearly six years spent struggling (having the troubled Nokia as one of its biggest clients didn’t help) and several changes to the management, success has come for the agency – and in a big way.

R/GA London is no longer the struggling satellite office of a famous parent. It has its own identity and a case study to match anything that has come out of its New York headquarters: Beats.

The agency took a punt on Beats and began working with the headphones brand in June 2011 when it was just starting out.

Today, Beats claims more than half of all premium-price headphone sales and, in May, Apple bought the company for more than $3 billion.

Shortly after the deal was announced, Dr Dre, the rapper and producer who part-owns Beats, was filmed boasting that he was the first hip-hop billionaire.

That’s probably not true, but it’s not far off. R/GA London says it was in deep with Beats, both in its marketing and product development.

The agency put the headphones in the hands of athletes before the London Olympics in 2012, dreamt up the Pill speaker characters and created Beats Music, a streaming platform (not launched in the UK) that uses algorithms to make listening suggestions based on the user’s taste.

It was clever stuff and bagged R/GA London a gold, three silver and two bronze Lions at Cannes.

The agency’s only failing was not insisting on retaining any IP rights for its creations, but that is an industry-wide problem and there is no point dwelling on it here.

More positively, R/GA London produced some fine TV ads for Beats.

The films showed sports stars such as Robin van Persie using Beats to escape into their own world before a match and won the Grand Prix at the Clio Sports Awards.

Ahead of the 2014 Fifa World Cup, R/GA London also released a spot featuring the Brazilian player Neymar called "the game before the game", which was the finest example of Beats’ sports-led TV advertising and stole the show from established advertisers such as Nike and Adidas.

However, its work for Beats is not the only reason R/GA London is this year’s Digital Innovation Agency of the Year.

The shop created an app, called @wherenext, for Heineken, did work around the World Cup for Google and was named the digital agency of record for Unilever’s Axe/Lynx brand.

All this will be music to the ears of Greenberg. In the past, the R/GA chairman and chief executive has been called the "30-second spot remover" for being part of the digital revolution that looked set to consign traditional agencies to a dusty corner of the industry.

But the Advertising Hall of Fame inductee told Campaign earlier this year that he was looking to hire more writer/art director teams in New York from agencies such as Grey in a bid to catch up with the traditional shops in storytelling skills.

So far, there has been little evidence of the London office stealing prominent teams from the big TV agencies but, in October, R/GA hired two senior creatives from Critical Mass – Daniel Williams and Owen Roberts – as creative directors for visual design.

R/GA London also recruited Bahadir Varol as its director of new business and growth for Turkey.

Varol joined from Turkcell, one of the agency’s clients, and will be based in an Interpublic Group-owned office in Istanbul in a bid to help the shop expand into Turkey, the Middle East and Africa – all of which is now part of the London office’s remit.

Perhaps more important than new hires, R/GA London has bedded in its co-executive creative director Rodrigo Sobral, who joined from The Mill Digital in 2013.

Sobral works with the agency’s executive creative directors and vice-presidents James Temple and George Prest, and was behind R/GA’s biggest ads for Beats.

R/GA London’s growth curve has been extraordinary – starting with five people when it opened in December 2009, the shop now has more than 180 employees and a turnover of more than £20 million (according to the agency).

Even with the backing of a giant such as Interpublic and a famous name behind it, getting this far is not easy.

R/GA London’s success should now be a motivational story for other UK outposts striving to impress their US parents.

Recent winners: SapientNitro (2013); Work Club (2012); AKQA (2011); AKQA (2010); Glue (2009)

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