Jessica Goodfellow
Nov 19, 2019

R/GA taps IBM iX's Gary Hoff as it swings to consultancy approach

EXCLUSIVE: Hoff wants to combine the "pure consulting" culture of his former employer with the creative prowess of R/GA.

Gary Hoff joins from IBM iX
Gary Hoff joins from IBM iX

R/GA Singapore has tapped IBM iX's Gary Hoff as executive creative director to lead a push into consultancy-led creative and business-transformation projects.

Hoff joins from IBM's digital agency, where he led creative work in the MEA region as ECD of UX and design. Prior to this he founded a startup digital product consultancy called Grampy that partnered with clients including IBM, L’Oréal and MasterCard to create new digital products and brand experiences. He has also held senior creative roles at HSBC, SapientNitro, AMV BBDO and Apple.

Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific Monday (18 November), his first day at R/GA, Hoff said he was attracted to the agency because it combines a strong creative pedigree with technological skills, and is the right size to be able to reinvent itself every nine years, a significant part of its model. He also was attracted to the "greenery" of Singapore, he says, having lived in Dubai for the last few years.

"I love the creative idea behind the brand and what it stands for, but I'm also very concerned with how it delivers," he said. "Coming from a pure consulting culture, that’s one of the reasons that I moved on from IBM because it was too consulting. You've got to balance it with creative work, otherwise the value for the user, the value for the brand, isn’t there. You miss these opportunities.

"So if you can bring that very large-scale enterprise thinking and then put it in something like R/GA, you’ve two things meeting, I think that’s a really good opportunity."

He believes the "nexus" for the advertising industry (and beyond) is in connecting the brand with what a business does operationally.

"That's always been quite siloed," he said. "At IBM I was experiencing that from a very large scale. So for someone like American Airlines or Etihad airlines, how do you communicate that something is wrong with the seat, for example, back to the ground so that as soon as the plane lands someone comes to fix it. It’s this whole idea of automation connecting brand with what operationally a brand does. I'd like to bring that garage methodology, transformational way of thinking to R/GA."

Big brand agencies have always thought about how the logo looks on the building, but they don't think about how the brand or logo changes or interacts, or how the artificial intelligence voice sounds or responds when you talk to it, he said. "There's these huge challenges that the creative industry really needs to get to grips with quickly," he added.

His business priorities are to help Singapore managing director Dorothy Peng to lift the region to the same creative standard as R/GA globally, to grow the client list and enhance the team. 

R/GA's transformation journey

Peng explained that while the Singapore outpost wants to “become more like New York” to make sure the R/GA offering is “more global than a network of offices”, she believes Singapore’s strength is in business consulting.

R/GA Singapore has been on a “transformation journey” over the past 18 months, according to Peng (pictured below), as it has looked to pivot from pure brand communications into end-to-end business transformation, brand experience and consultancy, which Hoff will be tasked with overseeing.


Notable work it has done this field includes building a supermarket for one of Singapore’s largest supermarket chains, designing a new digital bank, brand transformation for InsurTech companies, and designing new brand experiences for Google/YouTube.

Moving into a consultancy-led approach is becoming a common route for agencies that are looking to futureproof themselves from growing external pressures. But Peng thinks R/GA stands out because “we have the case studies to prove for it”.

“It’s not just talk,” she said. “How many companies in Singapore can say they built a digital bank or a new supermarket?”

She also believes R/GA’s multi-disciplinary teams, made up of experts who can “make things”, are a differentiating factor in the bloated agency world.

“Collaboration internally is our secret weapon,” she said. “The fact we have the consultants working on marketing briefs, for example, or creatives working on innovation consulting briefs, means we can apply experts to a problem and you're not caged to a solution.”

“We are consultants who make. We can consult clients on tech or business strategies, but we're also able to actually make them happen, have engineers to prove them, create prototypes to validate what we're thinking. I think that's the beauty versus consultancies or Sapient [where Hoff used to work] for example,” she added.
 
Hoff points to the makeup of Apple’s board, where “everyone can make something—they're an engineer or a designer or a hardware specialist” as proof this strategy works. Hoff previously worked as a head of creative EMEA at Apple.

From a technology point of view, Hoff is interested in exploring AI and how it can “become a creative partner for brands”, and system design, whereby R/GA could build design and technical components on top of a brand’s website or app in the same way developers create iterations from open-source code like Google Materials or Apple SDKs.

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