Going in to Cannes it was Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Lowe that were expected to shine - and they did, but not as brightly as Saatchis. As is usually the case with corporate image, perception drags behind reality, and for the past three years Saatchis has been improving its creative output and picking up awards pretty consistently.
The 34-year-old, Australian-born Droga took the Saatchis creative helm at the end of 1998, moving over from the network's Singapore office, which was Advertising Age's agency of the year in 1998. In London, the agency's Army work was as legendary as its efforts for Visa Delta (remember Mel Smith in tights). Droga says his first task was to unify the department: "The department seemed happy to have someone who spoke their mind. There were so many chiefs - it was fragmented and on the back foot."
Droga is friendly and funny and his creative department of 33 teams is fiercely loyal to him - the factor at the centre of Saatchis' creative success. In Cannes he was partying all night every night with his creatives.
Testament to the health of the department is the fact that it's not one star team taking all the awards, but a range of creatives.
One former colleague is John Messum, who quit Saatchis to found Leith London. Messum explains: "He's got a lot of good work out of the department because he is so enthusiastic and down to earth. He's not an ivory tower creative director - he's a very open door creative director. He's put a lot of energy into the place and so people give it back. You can't help but like him."
James Hall, the agency's chief executive, adds: "He's in the trenches with them. If they come up with good ideas he will fight for them. All the teams would die for Dave."
Droga is surrounded by a management geared to support the agency's creative output. He sits next to the managing director and the former head of planning, Kevin Dundas, and Hall also sits on the creative floor. Hall says: "It's to demonstrate that creative ideas are the focus of the agency. Droga jokes that it is because they've realised that the creative floor is where all the fun goes on.
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone with a nasty word to say about Droga.
Rival creative directors are curious about him, having heard he's a nice guy and noticed his work. But he doesn't try to fit in to the social side of the London advertising scene - he is not a regular at The Ivy. "I'm not a lunchy person. I don't like to sit around talking about the industry, he says.
Droga is one of five sons, all very successful, which is most likely the source of his determined ambition. Hall says: "He's obsessed by winning and by the quality of the work. He fights very hard for ideas and to create a good environment for his teams. Messum adds: "He's incredibly passionate and single-minded about what he wants. Three-and-a-half years ago no-one had even heard of him, now he's made a big impact."
Critics will highlight that the Grand Prix-winning print executions for Club 18-30, its "doggie style film and the Coco de Mer print ads were the type of work that appeal to Cannes juries more than consumers. Sexy gags go down well as they can cross the multiple language barriers.
Nevertheless, the agency's work for the NSPCC proved the agency's abilities in more serious arenas, as does its silver Lion for Toyota. But there's no doubt that the creative standards at Saatchis are inconsistent - take its latest work for Sunny Delight, for example.
Droga says: "We've turned around Toyota, and there's Monster.com. Procter & Gamble is run separate from me, but I'm working more and more on it. I'm not intimidated by any of our accounts. All of them have moved forward, some more than others."
Hall testifies that Droga is battling hard with Saatchis' more stubborn clients to move them toward more creative solutions. His charming nature can match that of the best account men, when it's put to selling work.
So how long will Droga stay? He says he misses the geography and sunshine of Australia, but not the work. He says his mandate was to turn around the creative reputation of Saatchis as soon as possible and Cannes 2002 proves he has achieved that. "When the department is in a state in which it can move forward without me, it's time for me to go," he explains.
Nevertheless, as an architectural junkie, Droga has spent the past 18 months having his house done up and has yet to move in. Although his frustration with the builders makes him want to leave the country, his commitment to the project indicates he's planning to stay on.
- Leader, p18.