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How R/GA Is Rethinking the Modern Creative Agency

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Michael Titshall, SVP and managing director of R/GA Australia, tells LBB how the agency has adapted to the defining changes of our time with an all-new outlook on the role they play

How R/GA Is Rethinking the Modern Creative Agency

Is the ‘traditional lead agency’ model dead? That may seem like a hyperbolic question, but what’s undeniably true is that traditional advertising models - specifically, a TV-ads-first approach - no longer serve brands or customers the way they once did. 

Additionally, brands’ roles in people’s lives are evolving. It’s no longer enough to provide a good service or product (that’s a non-negotiable). Increasingly, they’re expected to embody and add value to the world around them. For creative agencies who, traditionally, are known for great broadcast communications, this presents one of the challenges of our era. How can an agency provide the clear and compelling communication that we associate with the best TV campaigns, in this unpredictable and ever-changing media landscape? 

That’s a question which R/GA’s Australian office set out to answer with its mission to build “brands for a more human future”. Bringing together brand, experience, communication, and technology, they’re asking how brands can evolve, grow, and deliver real-world results. 

Aiming to shrug off preconceived ideas and cookie-cutter solutions, the agency takes an agnostic approach to delivering the best results for its clients (which include Nike, Toyota, Google, Mecca, and Reddit to name but a few). 

Walk A Mile In New Shoes

“One of the biggest questions brands have today is: How do we reach a new generation of consumers who are unlike any other that come before them?”, says Michael Titshall, SVP and managing director of R/GA Australia. “Timberland, traditionally known for great quality footwear, was keen to tell Gen-Z their story. And thus, what is now known as TimbsTrails was born”.

R/GA Australia conceptualised and executed the project – an immersive web-based experience that invited consumers on a journey through the brand’s most iconic historical moments. The experience consisted of 15 uniquely-themed environments, videos featuring influences like Fat Joe and Ghetto Gastro, and 10 pairs of boots to collect to complete the trails. 

The result was a total reach of 23 million sneakerheads – with testing reporting that players were 41% more likely to buy Timberlands as a result. Most notably, they helped Timberland once again become synonymous with youth culture, recapturing the brand’s spirit and communicating it to a new generation. 

“Our offering focuses on solving business problems in ways that are reflective of people’s changing media and technology habits”, explains Michael. “This was something that was driving great growth in markets like the US and UK, and a trend we were confident would be reflected in Australia if the right agency partners were onshore to deliver it”.

Crucially, that human-centric philosophy manifests itself through a multi-disciplinary approach. “R/GA is not going to lose focus on the skills that are critical for great comms agencies”, continues Michael. “But we’re also going to be leaning on wider expertise within the agency related to brand design, experience, and technology. With that model, brands are more able to connect with their target audience through experiences - something which is becoming increasingly important with changing media behaviours”.

Local Office, Global Capability

Interestingly, R/GA sees itself as an extended network with offices globally rather than separate offices operating across different markets. With this in mind, the agency has one CEO - Sean Lyons - with each of its 17 locations collaborating within one connected network. “That structure enables us to operate collaboratively as one connected network,” Michael says. 

The aim of that extended global network, as Michael explains, means that projects aren’t siloed by market; instead, both talent and brands get to benefit from a truly international way of working. “It’s really exciting for our talent to get the opportunity to work on projects outside of their home market”, he says. “For Australia in particular this means often working on Nike projects (like the For Every Body AR retail experience, which the team led on strategy and concepts) directly with their global head office or doing work for bigger markets – like how we delivered TimbsTrails out of Australia for Timberland’s global marketing team, pushing it live in the US and across Europe”.

To ensure that workflows and communication remain smooth across continents and time zones, R/GA uses a bespoke planning and management tool, Reporter, which allows teams to be connected across borders. 

“Reporter allows us to offer clients insights, experience, and talent in other markets, providing a deeper pool of expertise to best solve their challenges,” said Michael. “For us in Australia, this means our folks get to work on projects based out of the US and Asia as well - giving them exciting access to brands. At the same time, we often pull in overseas expertise for our local clients.”

This way of working also means R/GA Australia gets the opportunity to contribute significantly to R/GA’s overall successes and achievements. At the 2022 Webby Awards, for example, R/GA took home the Agency of the Year award, scooping up a total of 11 individual wins. The Australian team worked on three of those, with a contribution of 30% to the total number of awards. As Michael attests, that level of inter-connectedness across borders provides a unifying culture throughout the R/GA network. 

“There is definitely one culture that permeates all R/GA offices – a passion for constantly pushing the edge of what’s possible”, he says. “The smaller scale of the Australian market enables us to more easily create work at the intersection of our capabilities. That level of versatility and collaboration provides us with the spark we need to make good on our promise to build a more human future”.

An attitude of “we are only ever 80% complete” helps to push forward all the teams operating under the R/GA umbrella. “It’s in our DNA to continually reinvent ourselves,” notes Michael. 

Humanity-Driven Results

Designing brands for a more human future also means finding opportunities to create social impact where possible. Over the last 1-2 years, R/GA Australia has worked on We Are Warriors - a social change platform for indigenous youths. 

“Our work with them is not just a branding exercise; it’s about designing the project to ensure it creates maximum impact for First Nations people – to help them see and connect with aspiring role models. We’re really proud to play an ongoing part in this, and am excited about its potential impact,” Michael says. Built on the inspirational premise “See it to be it”, the platform finds inspirational First Nations role models, creating an easily accessible archive where indigenous youths can go to see themselves represented and to get inspired through a wide range of workshops, mentorship, and support.

“Choosing to create a more human future is a bit of a no-brainer - it’s good for the world, and it’s also good for our clients. This generation, more so than any before it, rewards brands that do good. That’s another reason why our role in building a more human future also means focusing on not just selling our clients’ products or services, but helping their clients see how they provide value to their lives and communities,” comments Michael. 

Looking to the future, R/GA Australia is turning its eye to health by launching a specific practice, observing that “there’s no industry in need of a more human future right now”, in the words of Michael. “We’re incredibly excited about making an impact in the health industry, and bringing our expertise to new areas of society,” he continues.  

As for the wider outlook, Michael is sure that what brands need is to find a way to be relevant amid rapidly shifting technologies and consumer behaviour patterns. “Delivering on this will require constant innovation to enable businesses to not just evolve their brand in preparation for growth, but also to deliver on it”, explains Michael. 

Excitingly, the agency is looking at the intersection of technology and culture in order to map out a blueprint for that strategy. “We’re looking forward to innovating through the new opportunities Web3 technology will enable, redefining experience for a new generation”, says Michael. With the future subject to so many moving parts and elements of uncertainty, one thing at least looks like a safe bet - that a human-centric approach favoured by R/GA is one of the best ways to rise to this moment. 

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R/GA Sydney, Thu, 29 Sep 2022 09:22:42 GMT