‘I never think I've cracked it’

David Droga

David Droga

David Droga, founder and creative chairman of Droga5,  was honoured with the 20Lion of St Mark at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Andy Fry looks at one of the most  awarded creatives in the history of the Festival.

David Droga won his first Lion aged 19 and has achieved more than 70 Gold and 15 Grand Prix/Titanium Lions in his career to date. Still only 48, it would be a surprise if he didn’t add to that total in the coming years.

“The Lion of St Mark recognises an individual who has made a significant and outstanding contribution to creativity in our industry,” says Jose Papa, managing director of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. “David’s drive, passion and unbounded creative skill has led him to deliver continual award-winning results.”

Australian by birth and upbringing, Droga started his career in Sydney before moving to Singapore to become executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore and regional creative director of Saatchi Asia in 1996. At the age of 29, he was promoted to executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi London, after which it was awarded Agency Of The Year at the 2002 Cannes Lions.

Next came a move to New York, where Droga became the first-ever worldwide chief creative officer of the Publicis Network. In 2006, he launched his own creative agency, New York-based Droga5 and the awards kept coming. The agency was selected as the Cannes Lions Independent Agency Of The Year in 2015 and 2016, confirming its status as one of the most influential agencies in the business.

Droga believes his early years of globe-trotting have benefited him: “I’ve had more opportunities than most and learned a lot from different people and cultures. I think I really found my feet creatively in London, but the overall process of moving markets takes you out of your comfort zone and encourages you to be creative. You can’t assume that what works in one market will work in another, so you need to be creative.”

While London was an important milestone for Droga, the launch of his own agency was the fulfilment of “a very personal goal”. He adds: “I really believe in building my own thing and being master of my own destiny. I also really liked the idea of a creative-run agency. There aren’t enough agencies where the owners and leadership are creatives."

Droga5 hit the ground running, winning a Cannes Lions Grands Prix almost immediately. Looking back to the early days, Droga says he is proud of the agency’s work on the UNICEF Tap Project, which asked restaurant-goers to donate $1 for their free tap water to raise funds for clean drinking water. “The UNICEF work struck a chord in terms of what I believed in, and the positive impact creative, empathetic work can have. Even if Droga5 had folded after that, it would have been worth it.”

Droga5 didn’t fold, of course, and has gone on to deliver terrific work across a range of formats and media, including the ‘Under Armour’ campaign featuring Gisele Bundchen, Android’s ‘Friends Furever’, The New York Times’ ‘Truth’ campaign and the hilarious MailChimp campaign. Explaining his success, Droga says: “I love being a creative person, but I never take it for granted. I have a restless curiosity that’s really empowering and stops me being complacent. I’m not one for looking in the rear-view mirror. I never think I’ve cracked it. I’m always on edge about how the agency proves the point of its existence.”

There are other factors that explain Droga5’s success, Droga adds. One is its emphasis on creativity with a purpose: “We’re in business, so creativity can never be a ‘nice to have’ — it has to have a purpose. Our creativity is all about problem-solving strategies, seeing around corners, making lateral leaps.”

He is also open to innovation in media usage: “I’d say 60%-70% of what we do is not traditional. If the right answer for the brief is billboard or film, that’s what we’ll do. But if the best idea is a product, event or experience, we’ll do that. Creativity can morph its shape into anything. I don’t want us to be one note.”

As head of Droga5, Droga also ensures that everyone who joins the agency wants to go on the journey with him. “You have to hire well — select people who share your beliefs and have sympathy with your core values,” he says. “If you can build the right environment, then creativity becomes contagious.”

In terms of Lion of St Mark, he says the honour is “beyond my wildest ambitions”. He adds: “It’s incredible to be recognised when so many previous recipients are my heroes. But the truth is, I don’t go to the Lions for the awards. I go to see people from other stages of my career and to be inspired — like I did in my twenties. Each year, I see something I love, that I wish I’d done.”

As for the future, he says: “I’m a simple person and can never get over how fortunate we are to be paid to use our ingenuity. I just want Droga5 to stay relevant and come up with ideas that make the world a better place and make people feel better.”

Harriet Palmer