On returning to Southeast Asia to visit, David Droga alludes to the many things that inspire him: the energy, the pace of change, the adoption of social commerce and the enthusiasm he picks up from talent across the region. But importantly, he admits, it’s the food he still craves.
“It's like a running joke in my house how obsessed I am with the spicy food from my days in Singapore,” says Droga, who worked in the city-state from 1996 to 1999 as Saatchi & Saatchi’s top creative. More than twenty years later, Droga is not only able to revist old haunts to satisfy his sambal cravings, but as the CEO of the recently rebranded Accenture Song, he now appears bent on serving up more of the flavour and heat from the region to the rest of Song’s global network.
“[With] the pace of what’s happening here in the market and the diversity of talent, I feel like this might be the forward scout to prove out the global Song offering,” Droga explained to Campaign and select media in a wide-ranging interview along with Accenture Song's SEA managing director Thomas Mouritzen and growth markets president Flaviano Faleiro.
Because Southeast Asia is growing faster than other global regions, Mouritzen says, it provides an opportunity for global clients to see what can be developed and put to market more quickly. Having been in the region for the last 19 years, he’s also observed a market change in the quality of work and talent allowing it to compete with the world’s best. “We see alternatives and work coming from Southeast Asia that are best practices at a global level,” Mouritzen adds.
Accenture Song is rarely able to publicise much of this work (Southeast Asian clients that can be named include food delivery app Robinhood in Thailand, and Singapore’s Changi Airport and Central Provident Fund Board). But between further references to metaverse applications out of Thailand, creative commerce work in Indonesia and Singapore’s pulsing productivity, Droga says there is a lot that can be learned and applied.
“When you look at some of the best practices and innovations that are emerging from here, I’ve already started to bubble that up to people in New York and LA and London and Milan saying: ‘Look at what they're doing, take their boldness, take their bravery, take their ability to sort of see around corners and go beyond the expected',” Droga says.
In practical terms this means Accenture Song is far from done in building out its Southeast Asian network following its acquisitions of digital creative agencies Entropia and Romp over the past 16 months. “The ambition and hunger [for growth] is the same,” Faleiro explains, noting that Japan, Australia and China will also continue to be key growth markets, but particular emphasis will be placed on developing innovation engines across Southeast Asia. As a result, Accenture Song currently plans to open more content production, metaverse and innovation studios in Southeast Asia than in North America, Droga says.
Future acquisitions and priorities
There will “definitely” be more acquisitions in SEA too, and while Accenture won’t yet divulge in which markets, its leaders say all future additions to the network will be based around “future-facing” categories and specialisations that help its business around converging creativity, technology and data.
“We’re in a rush because our clients need us to deliver and solve for them today. And as great as we are today we can be better tomorrow. If there’s a right acquisition to make, we’ll make it. And some of them will be in surprising spaces. There’s some we’ll be announcing soon that will be massive news and some will be fascinating news, but when you put them together it’ll make sense," Droga says.
“Definitely some of our previous acquisitions will give you a tell into the spaces we’re looking at [with] new relevant models.”
All future acquisitions will have creativity at their heart, Droga contends, clarifying that this will be “sincere” creativity for clients that is productive, scalable, repeatable and accountable as opposed to “disposable” creativity with a limited marketing shelf-life.
What Accenture Song won’t do, Droga says, is put pins in a map or chase additional revenue and headcount by buying up branding agencies that can be simply grown organically.
Nor is it a priority to develop his Droga5 creative network across the region, he says, ruling out a new office in Southeast Asia and admitting that a previously planned presence in China is no longer on the horizon.
Droga also categorically ruled out acquiring a media-buying company. “That’s just of no interest to me. It’s just a cents-on-the-dollar clipping-coupons type of thing. I want to be more relevant to our clients in more profound ways than that. With new media we can have a massive influence, and with media planning [too], but that’s not our play. Our job for our clients is to reinvent and find new ways for them to make money, not marginalising the engineering for them to spend a little bit less.”
DROGA ON THE RECORD
What creativity stands for today
If you're a creative person of merit and real worth, you want to trial and test your creativity on as many canvases and platforms as you can, that's what creativity is. Creativity isn't just thinking of crazy things. Creativity is trying to solve things and seeing it actually reach the real world. I'm very grateful for my career and the opportunities I had. But now, seeing the optic canvases that creators have to create on, I'm slightly jealous of emerging younger talent. I'm thinking: ‘Wow, imagine starting your career where your idea wouldn't just manifest itself in a TV commercial’. You might create a whole new platform that could affect the way people shop, or it could actually change society, or the way people get access to medication. This is what is amazing. We as creators are no longer contained to linear storytelling. Storytelling and craft are still prevalent and important, but now technology has a chance to scale, amplify and legitimise that.
What is creativity? It’s just a word for new. It’s more than just cool stuff. Creativity is about new. It's about potential. It's about what you know could be and should be. It's not about what is and will be. And that's the world we live in now where businesses can't thrive on the certainty of now. And creative isn't just writers, art directors and designers. It’s strategists, coders, leaders. Creativity is a mindset and attitude.
How Accenture engages younger creative talent
With every emerging generation you’ve got to make them realize [you’re] in sync with their values and there has to be a certain excitement from a cultural perspective. But now, when I talk to any young shaper, creator or builder, I always talk about impact. Like any creative person, I want to make things that actually have an impact, that become real and manifest in the world. There is no other organisation that can give you as many opportunities to deliver for as many industries across the board then Accenture. I really mean this, and it doesn't mean we're perfect. But no other company has as many opportunities to perform and solve for clients as we do.
I say to anyone who's emerging from university, art school or wherever: 'Bring all your talents and all your ambitions and all your quirkiness into the corporate world. Because the corporate world embraces you now. Before they shunned you or they didn't get you. Now they realize they need you. And Accenture [does too]. Do they understand everything about us [as creators]? No. Do they appreciate the value we add? Yes. And that's why I took the job.
The competitive landscape
We've just got to make sure that we don't get concerned with trying to compete with the old model. Some people would like to pigeonhole us [to say] we're competing against the holding companies. That's not how we look at them. Randomly, we sometimes compete against them, but that's not who our business is built around. We're not trying to replicate them at all and I'm not interested in competing against them in that way. We have to be comfortable in being a leader in this new model.
I like the fact that we have multiple industries that we compete against and we're relevant against. That proves the point that we are in a category of one because we are competing with so many different industries and they’re all looking at us thinking we’re the goal for them. There’s no question that the consulting tech heritage of Accenture gives us a massive head start.
It’s now the buzzword, everyone’s investing in the metaverse. Accenture has been in this space before the word metaverse was socialized. They've got 600 patents in blockchain. They've been working on this for decades.
On local relationships to head office
When I was here [in Singapore] in a much more traditional role, I was aware that head office [priorities] trickled down and our job in the beginning was to be compliant. But all my mission was–and it was probably the right thing for the client–was just to piss off head office. That's all I wanted to do. I wanted to do work that I thought was great and we didn't have to appeal to them. And for my sins, they promoted me to run head office.
But here it's different. [Local leaders] are not thinking about being compliant or second class citizens. They are some of the architects who are gonna prove [our model] out. When you think of what we're doing in social commerce or in the metaverse from Thailand I'm trying to catch my breath keeping up. Now what I have to do is support them from the sidelines to make sure they have the right resources, financials, and some some skill sets that we can apply from other places.
Answers edited for clarity and brevity.