Interview: David Droga on Creative Leadership

David Droga’s name has become synonymous with modern advertising creativity. The founder and chairman of Droga5 leads what is generally regarded as one of the most creative agencies on the planet. We asked Droga how his agency has consistently delivered great work while growing, discussed the elements of creative leadership and found out why proving the business case for creativity is one key to avoiding mediocrity.

How do you think being a great creative leader varies from being a great leader in general?

Being a creative leader, as opposed to being a CEO, you have to deal a lot more in the subjective. You have to be more in touch with the emotional side of things, beyond just the confidence and the visionary side of things. So much of what we’re doing in creative is subjective, and you’re dealing with things that are fragile and exciting.

Getting the best work and getting people united around you is about them believing you have their backs and you’re taking them to a place where they’re going to do the best work of their career.

But at the same time it’s a fragile thing, because you’re trying to motivate people. There’s no formula. Just working harder doesn’t make people work better or doesn’t make the output any better. You’re trying to give people confidence.

I like being a creative leader, because I think people know you’re more in touch with things. You’re grounded in the actual business of what we do. I’m not just a leader at an agency, out of touch with the product we produce.

The product we produce is our thinking and our creative. Creative leaders out there have a more legitimate case to be at the forefront of the agencies than those that are just helicoptered in and it wouldn’t matter if they were selling coat hangers or tires or pharmaceuticals.

What are the typical pitfalls a creative contributor like an art director of copywriter succumbs to when they begin to manage other creatives, or lead agencies?

Some still don’t see the creative as a business. It’s not just about the magic, or the subjective nature of creative. They’ve got to be aware that if the creative doesn’t tap into and drive the business, then there’s no business there to be creative about. They are intrinsically connected and they both affect each other very much.

A lot of creatives just fight for the creative at all costs, regardless of the impact to the business. That’s a short-lived career and the agencies don’t grow.

I feel very proud to be a creative leader, and I feel like the best way I can protect the creative is to build a legitimately strong business on the back of the creative.

The more opportunities and more strength that I can give the agency, the better we can be creatively. There isn’t conflict between the two.

If you were to look back at the key creative challenges that you were facing maybe in earlier years at Droga5, how have they evolved? And how does the landscape look different today?

To be honest, the changes are more structured to do with the scale of the opportunities than the difficulties of the categories or the industry at large.

Right from the get-go we’ve been trying to do the very best we can for our clients and beyond.

Before, when we were smaller, we could have a much more intimate relationship with the opportunities. It was almost like a linear process, where the opportunities fell one at a time. And now there’s multiple at any given time. We make sure that we’re consistent.

Obviously now the scale of the clients that we’re fortunate enough to work with, there’s no dark corners. The bigger thing is to be consistent throughout, at every touchpoint. And there are so many touchpoints now.

Our biggest thing is to prove that we can get better as we get bigger. I’m not put off by the scale of the clients, I just realize the creativity will go up.

If anything, it makes us want to show it at scale: creativity’s relevant no matter who you are.

So many people discuss what creativity is, and how it’s evolving and developing, and what it means today versus what it means a few years ago. Do you think the actual nature of creativity is changing?

Creativity is one of those words that’s almost being spoiled by the industry. Everyone’s got a creative department, everyone thinks they’re great. I just care about doing stuff that has a positive influence. Creativity is a lazy way to describe it.

A tenet of that is being original and relevant and emotional. I’m very taken by doing work that touches a nerve and makes people feel and think something.

It’s not just about doing something creative for the sake of it, because just being creative without a purpose can be harmful. It doesn’t do the industry any favors.

Just being weird or different or crazy for the sake of it, yes it’s creative — but it’s not driving anything forward.

(This article was originally published on, 24/3/16).