Until recently, trying to set up a confab with the peripatetic David Droga invariably meant making do with a few soundbites on his mobile as he scurried hither and thither through Manhattan's limestone canyons. But with his recent move into new offices in SoHo, he and his fledging company, Droga5, have finally found a home - albeit temporarily, until permanent offices become ready next April.
Even though the current surrounds may be transitory, there is little doubt that Droga5's outlook is long-term in nature. The Australia-born Droga has previously dropped anchor in Sydney, Singapore, London and New York, for the likes of Omon, Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Worldwide. Now he's raised his own flag in Manhattan.
Backed by Publicis ("Enough that they have a huge financial and emotional stake in it. But to their credit, I control it," he says), Droga5 is a marketing and advertising company with a difference. "I want clients to give us the freedom to come back with a myriad of communication solutions. That may involve entertainment, architecture, the community and online," Droga says. "I haven't reinvented the wheel; I just want to take that wheel offroad and everywhere."
He currently claims 12 employees - "Call me next week and I might have some more" - and four clients: General Electric, Marc Ecko Enterprises, PBS Kids and Magnum Photos. Call him next week and he says he'll have another big account he can talk about.
Reckoned to have something of a Midas touch when it comes to advertising, things are moving fast for the company so named after the labels Droga's mother used to sew inside the clothes of her fifth son before he went to boarding school. The 37-year-old Droga quit Publicis and his role of the global chief creative officer because he was spending too much time travelling and in meetings. "I felt a bit token-ish," he says. "At end of the day, what gets me going is brands and creative, not admin and all that stuff. I didn't want to be an ambassador; I wanted to be a creative director. Clearly, I wanted to set up my own company and get control. I haven't turned my back on advertising. I'm still an ad guy."
Not that what Droga is doing is exactly new - the New York-based Anomaly launched itself a couple of years earlier with similar goals. Though Anomaly, he says, is light years ahead of Droga5. "All of us are idea-generators and we understand brands. Everyone's trying it a different way."
What is different is the speed with which he is managing to generate attention and results. For example, the viral campaign for the clothing client Ecko featured seemingly clandestine footage of a graffiti artist tagging Air Force One. According to reports, 87 million people viewed the film, which remains available at stillfree.com. It also won the Cyber Grand Prix this year at Cannes, where Droga was chairing the Film and Press juries.
Was he surprised it won? Yes and no, he says. The objective was to create something that would exploit mass media. "The primary audience was the youth market. They knew early that it was fake, they pushed it out to the mass market, who perpetuated it. Then, when the government denied it, you couldn't ask for a better start than that."
Droga5 employees include Duncan Marshall, a former executive creative director of Publicis New York, as well as more non-traditional appointments such as the Absolute magazine editor, Andrew Essex. "I believe that if you surround yourself with smart storytellers and understand the human psyche, then you can find the right solutions," he says. He's also collaborating with Philippe Starck on GE and Hollywood names such as the director Henry Alex Rubin. Then there's a joint venture with the production company Smuggler, and he's scriptwriting for a PBS children's show.
It's all go, but it hasn't all been plain sailing. He declines, for example, to comment on the progress of his biggest client, GE, with whom he's working on a project for the Beijing Olympics. "I made the mistake of saying too much to a journalist in Australia and I got scolded by them," he says.
He sees no problems in opening up shop in New York, renowned for its inhospitality towards smaller agencies. "In New York, the ripples are bigger," he says. "Niche brands here are $20 million brands. It used to be the most interesting brand in a category was the challenger brand, now it's numbers three, four or five. If small agencies don't do well here, it's because they're all trying to bite from the same cherry."
He's learned a lot along the way. "I've been lucky because obviously I've always moved to bigger markets like a Russian doll. I went from Australia to Asia to London, which was a massive wake-up call. When I was running Saatchis in London, I loved it that I understood all the issues and I loved that community. In New York, with the global role, I learned about the scale of things. I also learned about creativity with a conscience. There's a soul to what we do, as well as commerce." He dedicates one day a week to non-profit, environmental issues.
As for the future: "I'd love to be in London now because, pound for pound, you have the best creative talent. London is an incredible market creatively and strategically, but that's a pipe dream. I love throwing myself into these things. People think I'm an idiot, probably. But who doesn't want to be in control of their own destiny?"