Stone, O’Sullivan and Alomajan cut ribbon on Kiwi arm of Droga5

It’s been almost six months since Saatchi & Saatchi’s then chief executive Andrew Stone and executive creative director Mike O’Sullivan packed their bags and wandered out the doors. Not surprisingly, the rumours about their future plans were plentiful, but the major one, that the pair would be getting into bed with Droga5, has now come to fruition. 

Along with Jose Alomajan, creative strategist at DDB and, prior to that, digital business director of AIM proximity, Stone and O’Sullivan will today cut the ribbon for the New Zealand arm of Droga5, an agency The Guardian newspaper described as “the world’s most exciting”.

“We believe, in this time of enormous change in the way consumers are making decisions, Droga5 can bring new perspectives, ideas and partnerships that many clients in New Zealand are looking for. This has certainly been the case in New York and Sydney where the Droga5 model has been very successful since launching four years ago,” Stone said. “Today is the start of a very exciting journey for Mike, Jose and myself – and the rest of our team. It is also, we believe, the opportunity for clients to get the ideas they need for the future in the most efficient and enjoyable way.”

Stone believes the fact that there’s no legacy with Droga5 means it has fresh eyes on the way advertising, business and the world in general is moving. The agency’s successful business model in New York and Australia is based on actively seeking out new partnerships, often outsourcing the grunt work for different projects. And, with an increasing amount of project work these days, Stone says this desire to facilitate partnerships, whether with individuals or entities, and democratise idea creation, is one of the major jewels in the Droga5 crown.

“Droga5 is very different, very new, and it’s been built from the ground up as a collective made up of clients and business partners and offices within the network. And I guess the biggest thing is being part of that collective in New Zealand . . . You want to have access to lots of different eyes and specialties. We want more partnerships, there’s no defensiveness about that.”

At this point, he says this collective approach doesn’t mean the Kiwi office will be doing any work for New York or Australia in the foreseeable future (at this point, it’s exactly the opposite, with the Aussie and New York offices pitching in and offering all the help they can). Stone’s focus is currently on local clients, none of which he would reveal, although he did confirm Toyota wouldn’t be part of the mix.

“We’ll talk about that in due course,” he says.

As for the possibility of working with Saatchis again, he says: “We’ll work with anyone, that’s the truth of it. There’s no issue for us whatsoever. But I don’t know what their view would be.”

In the last few months, Stone says he and the two partners have been meeting with a range of clients to find out what they wanted from an agency, what they would most like to see change and what they didn’t like about the current model. And Droga5’s desire to remedy those issues in their own unique way meant setting up an Auckland office was a perfect next venture for Stone and O’Sullivan.

After their discussions, it was apparent clients didn’t like the fees they can’t see any reason for, the hierarchy, the structure, or the deadwood within agencies. Some clients, he says, simply won’t pay for that kind of service any more. But he says they’re still willing to pay a premium for the right skills or people if the ideas that are generated are more relevant and “will work today and in the future”.

“Clients are hungry for new ideas, they’re absolutely keen on new solutions. Not one of the clients spoken to has gone ‘we’re really just delighted with the way the current model is working’.”

This ambivalent – and in many cases negative – attitude towards the existing agency model goes some way to explaining the success of agencies like Special Group, Running With Scissors (which, in a similar fashion to Droga5, aims to find solutions to business problems by using a database of different idea generators, rather than a creative department) and Sugar.

Droga5 was established by Australian advertising executive David Droga in New York in 2006, was named Creativity Magazine Agency of the Year within two years of launching and has global partnerships with Puma, Microsoft, Activision and others. And this is what the magazine said about the agency in 2007: “D5 did what the industry has collectively been talking about for a long time – it created big ideas that are manifest across any and all areas and executed them with style, it took major risks, and it did what could now be considered a bonus, but soon may be de rigeur: it devoted a portion of its efforts to works that have a meaning beyond stimulating consumption.”

And, not surprisingly, this fits in with Stone’s take on the company philosophy: for him, it’s all about the future, not the past. Digital is a big part of that, he says, but more broadly, it’s about creating an agency that tries to be of benefit to businesses and to society as a whole, something advertising agencies haven’t always been renowned for in the past.

“David Droga has an intense desire to do good,” he says.

Droga, now the creative chairman, says the current state of flux in the advertising world means it’s a great time to set up in New Zealand.

“Clients are seeking radically different and better solutions. Consumers are looking for brands and businesses to move forward confidently and with credibility,” he says. “The combination of Jose, Mike and Andrew will be very powerful for New Zealand clients keen to build new momentum for their businesses.”

The Kiwi arm will certainly be hoping to replicate the success of Droga5 in Australia, which opened in late 2007. Two years later the office now employs over 35 staff, with clients including VB, Crown, Cascade, V Australia and Telstra and it was voted 2010 Hotshop of the Year and 2009 Agency of the Year by CREATIVE and B&T magazines.

“It’s great to have like minded partners so close to us. I’ve worked with them for years and can’t wait for the two teams to combine, have some fun and produce powerful solutions for our clients ” says David Nobay, founding partner and creative chairman at Droga5 in Sydney.

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