R/GA Goes Global The Old-Fashioned Way, With Talent That Earns Less

CANNES, FRANCE -- R/GA chief Bob Greenberg and his chief growth officer Barry Wacksman Wednesday painted a portrait of the digital agency of the future during a presentation to attendees at the Lions Festival here. Not surprisingly, it looks a lot like what R/GA will resemble two years from now. Actually, Greenberg said it will be the culmination of an initiative the agency began back in 2004.

"There is no really global, digitally centered agency out there," Greenberg asserted. He says to get there will "require a different organizational structure" than any major digital shop has today, including R/GA, which will be greatly transformed when it comes out of the transition.

To underscore the change, Greenberg quoted the late Chiat/Day founder Jay Chiat.

"Jay Chiat used to say: 'How big can we get before we get bad?'" Greenberg recalled. "Our version is a little different. It is: 'How diverse can we get before we get really good at diversity and functional integration?'"

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Aside from getting Chiat to roll over in his grave, Greenberg gave a pretty compelling argument for the need to change. It's all due to what is happening to marketers.

"Our clients are global, so we are going to have to be global," he explained.

Amazingly, the agency is doing so without making any acquisitions, but by creating regional versions of R/GA organically. Greenberg said it was in keeping with R/GA's original model that "we would have no acquisitions and roll-ups."

The result has been the creation of a lot of mini-versions of R/GA sprouting up in key global markets.

"When you take a headquartered agency and make multiple agencies out of it, they are generally smaller versions of the headquarters," he said, adding that the big difference is "local insights, local activation and local clients."

Greenberg implied that a lot of local clients have been "getting lost" as big agencies ignore them in pursuit of global strategies.

By contrast, Greenberg said R/GA's globalization strategy relies predominantly on local talent, servicing local clients with local insights, but managed under strict organizational controls that ensure they will operate with R/GA's culture for digital excellence.

The result will add diversity to the entire R/GA organization as it integrates local talent in new markets, with one other big advantage: cheaper talent costs.

Citing the rollout of a new Buenos Aires office in October, Greenberg said the agency's talent recruiters have been utilizing the same strict qualifications criteria they use to hire people to work on the Nike account in its New York offices -- but at "one-third to 50% of the cost."

He said R/GA will soon open regional offices in Stockholm and Bucharest; other key markets represent more of a challenge, including Shanghai, Mumbai and Moscow.

Wacksman wrapped up the session, concluding that the new global organization may change the way R/GA defines itself. "We really have no idea of what to call ourselves anymore, just like it is impossible to describe what Apple is anymore," he said.

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