Of Mice and Men – Droga5 and the story that every London start-up goes through

Elon Musk once said “Running a start up is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood.” Ouch.

In the wake of Nik Studzinski’s departure from Droga5 London you have to look at advertising start ups with a similar philosophy. In London there have been some blinding successes in the indie ad agency arena in the last few years; Creature, 101, 18 feet and rising, and Albion being amongst the victors. But these are truly independents (let’s disregard the fact that some have equity shares from networks who are purposely quiet on this front). All up they are home nurtured offerings, quick to adapt and led by Creative Directors who have proved themselves in previous agencies. They are nimble and they foster talent in a way that most of the big multi-nationals struggle to do so.

So why isn’t Droga5 London part of this equation of success? After all the Droga5 name makes all creatives go gooey at the knees, founded by the one-of-a-kind Dave Droga (ECD of Australia’s most awarded Indie agency, Omon in his early 20s and leader of the entire Publicis Network by his mid-30s) Droga5 has not only won every award of every denomination, but it’s created campaigns that have actively changed the way people around the world think (not just the Tap Project – there’s a screed of them which takes up an article in its own right. To be honest I’d give a body part to work there. Most creatives would.)

The question here is why is Droga5’s London offering a little wobbly to put it mildly? (Thiago de Moraes left the ECD role after 6 months) and now Nik Studzinski has handed in his access card less than a year later. I’d argue that it’s not just enough in the London market to have an enticing brand name and an amazing creative lead. I’d argue that chiefly you need contacts to inside organisations that gets you to the heart of businesses. This isn’t the first time Droga5 has had to deal with this situation. Droga5 Auckland launched around 4-5 years ago poaching the dream team management of Rocky Stone and the multi-award winning ECD Mike O’Sullivan from Saatchis. Mirroring what had happened with Dave Nobbay and Sydney Saatchi and the establishment of the very successful Droga5, Sydney. However, while Droga5 Sydney succeeded on a stellar level, Droga5 Auckland, faltered. It seems that the ties from management to the various Saatchis clients was not as sound as one would have hoped. Stone exited the building, followed unceremoniously by a name change with the Droga5 name being taken off the door. The Collective (what it was then to be known as) faded into further obscurity until eventually being folded into an unknown marketing / design agency.

Far from this being a ‘bagging Droga5 post’ this instead highlights their situation as perhaps the hottest shop in the world and the difficulties that even the best shops have with gaining a foothold in established markets. In the same sentence I could also include CP&B’s offering in London being a little wobbly as well which is surprising considering the digital nous that CP&B’s offices in Boulder and Miami offer. To those who aren’t familiar CP&B are pretty much responsible for the majority of all groundbreaking digital campaigns from 2000 till… well… now. The only other trailblazer internationally is R/GA, New York.

Some of you might know at age 25 I set up my own ad agency, HooperNagel, with a friend who’s done pretty well for himself (Global ECD Chris Moreira – now at Saatchis New York). Our agency pulled in some fairly big names in a short space of time. Amnesty International, Olympus, Mountain Dew, Women’s Refuge. In our first year the Sydney office was higher on Campaign Brief’s ranking list than JWT Sydney. Higher than The Monkeys (then called Three Drunk Monkeys). We won Lions and all sorts of trinkets. We had a buy out offer for the awards alone which we didn’t take (more fool us). So what happened? Why am I not typing this from a super-yacht? Well, not that I want to compare myself to Droga5 (because I’m not that good) but we didn’t have the deep relationships needed inside the organisations in order to keep the accounts. As soon at the big multinationals caught wind of us working on a slice of the business, we’d swiftly get removed from future projects. Establishing a start up is exactly like eating glass. I realised this the more I ventured into it, and I honestly really want Droga5 London to thrive and succeed. All I can say is, get used to the glass.



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