AdFest 2017: Ted Royer on the success of Droga5 - It's been a big, fat fucking rollercoaster ride

Ted Royer_Campaign Brief 2016 .jpgNext year, one of the creative giants (and good guys) of ad land, Droga5's Ted Royer, is returning to Asia as Grand Jury President of ADFEST 2017. In a career spanning 20-years, Royer has won enough metal to sink a small ship: over 100 major awards, and counting. Just this week Droga5 was named Adweek's 2016 U.S. Agency of the Year and earlier this year Royer was named #1 in Business Insider's "The 30 most creative people in advertising 2016". Campaign Brief Asia caught up with Royer - Chief Creative Officer at Droga5 New York - to find out more about his trip to Thailand next March.

Ted, this is not your first ADFEST is it?
I used to live in Singapore, so I've been to ADFEST a few times. I'm really excited about returning - besides the chance to catch up with a lot of old buddies, I love going to other parts of the world and seeing how our industry has evolved in different markets. ADFEST has its finger on the pulse in so many parts of Asia: countries I haven't been exposed to in awhile. I think some of the work from these places is going to be fascinating to me.
AdAge recently wrote of Droga5: "It's this obsessive, relentless giving-a-damn that has led the agency to where it is today". Is it true that you care too much?
I don't know if we can care too much as an industry, but it's something we do say at Droga5 - that caring is often out of scope. A lot of companies can deliver work that meets the brief. We don't think that's enough. One of the best barometers for our ideas is when we find ourselves asking: "Can we even do that??"

Because that's the work that pushes people and shocks people. Sadly a lot of our industry might have phoned it in when it comes to moving out of their comfort zones. We don't want to be that agency. We want to be making work that makes us nervous.

So how do you sleep at night?
Ambien, ha! Actually, you're not going to be very good if you're burning yourself out. We want people to take their vacations at Droga5. You don't have to stay at the office all night to be a good creative. There's a way to have ambition and work hard without burning yourself out, and it's important to turn your brain off for a while.

When was your last vacation?
We rented a house with some other families over summer. Actually, I didn't turn my phone off the whole time so I've made an agreement with my wife that on our next vacation, I can only turn my phone on at 11am and 3pm.

There are agencies that ask people to keep their phone on all night though and I say, fuck that, you have to be respectful of people's time. We're not the kind of industry that needs to be run on high military alert.

Droga5 New York has grown into an agency of nearly 700 people in New York. Does the agency's growth sometimes gobsmack you?
It's been a big, fat fucking rollercoaster ride. It's been incredibly fun, and we're incredibly proud of it.

Droga5_staff.jpgNot only have a lot of us never run an agency this size, but we've never worked in an agency this size, which means none of us have bad habits to shed. We're all just trying to be as ambitious, smart and compassionate as we can be.

We've achieved between 30% and 40% revenue growth every year, so Droga5 feels like a different agency every year. But the same spirit is still there - we hug each other a lot, we drink together, hopefully a few people made out at our party last night, although nobody tells me anything anymore. It's getting harder to know everyone in the office with 700 people, but that spirit lives on, and it trickles down from the top.

You're based on Wall Street, not Madison Avenue. Why?
Well, there's a ferry from Williamsburg that comes right here, and a lot of people at Droga5 live there because it's a cool part of New York.  Basically, we found a space we love and can keep growing into. We've taken over two more floors and we have the ability to grow into the building. And we're changing the neighbourhood, the coffee is getting better on Wall Street thanks to us.

One of the agency's principles is "humanity obsessed". What does this mean to you?
We're proud of being in advertising, but we don't want to make crap that people avoid. Almost every day a new technology is built to avoid advertising. We don't want to be part of the wall of sound out of respect for people's time.

Also no matter what we're doing business-wise, we will use a proportion of our brains and hearts to do something we truly believe in, beyond helping clients. Some examples are the Equal Payback Project, Tap Project for UNICEF, Not There for the Clinton Foundation and The Great Schlep.

How do you make time for these kinds of projects?
We treat it like a real business or brief, we don't say: 'Do this in your spare time'. If you treat it like a sideshow, it will be a sideshow.

ADFEST celebrates 20 years next year. Your career spans 20 years. What have been the highlights and biggest nightmares?
The business of advertising is nightmarish on a regular basis - you can't go a week without being punched in the gut. I think you have to take failures and setbacks with grace - this is something I had to learn, I used to stamp my feet and get angry.

In terms of career highlights, I'm really proud of the amount of work I've been able to do around the world, practising this craft in different places - I think it's given me a good radar for a great global versus local idea.

And I'm especially proud of the team at Droga5, and proud of having helped to build that team.

Do you think your time living and in Singapore and Argentina shaped you creatively?
I encourage every creative to do a stint abroad because it will stretch your mind in incredible ways. Even if you have a terrible day at work, the sounds and smells, even the sunlight, will be different when you leave the office, and can't help but ignite your creativity in different ways.

And when you're living in another country, you have to be really open to letting things shape you, and letting go of preconceived notions you might have about how things should be done. I found that when I did this, it was much more fun.

You've won basically every award and accolade this industry has to offer. Is there anything you're yet to accomplish?
I love the idea of creating environments where younger, more creative and more energetic people than me can really flourish. And I'd really love to write and teach more in future.

I do give seminars occasionally, but I'd love to make teaching a bigger part of my life. If I can take some of the crap I've been through and let people know it's normal to go through this crap, that would be a good achievement.

READ MORE ON ROYER'S EARLY CAREER
VIEW DROGA5's WORK HERE

ADFEST in March will be the 20th Anniversary of the Festival - one not to be missed. Plan your trip now.

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