When Accenture Song made the bold move of acquiring iconic ad agency Droga5 back in 2019, the industry questioned whether creativity could thrive in a corporate consulting environment. 

Five years later, eponymous founder David Droga now runs Accenture Song, which operates in 120 countries, made $18 billion in revenue in 2023 and counts blue-chip brands such as Huggies, Signet Jewelers, Prada and Netflix among its clients. 

Droga was elevated to oversee Accenture Song in 2021, then called Accenture Interactive. He rebranded the firm in 2022 and restructured it into four broad practice areas in late 2023 spanning marketing, design and digital products, commerce and customer service. He’s poached leaders from top agencies, from Publicis UK CEO Anette King to R/GA global CEO Sean Lyons, to lead these pillars of the business. 

While Droga is no stranger to entrepreneurship, he is a creative by trade — and he’s on a mission to prove that creative leaders are best positioned to lead businesses where the product is creativity.

“I’m so happy that there’s a creative in charge — if not me, I’d want it to be another creative — and that there are lots of creatives with large remits and voices inside the organization,” he says.

However, he is realistic about the role traditional creative agencies play in today’s marketing landscape, which is increasingly automated, integrated, fragmented and dominated by digital and technology. Within the walls of the behemoth that is Accenture, Song can support clients with commerce, AI and digital transformation capabilities at scale while “dovetailing” creative agencies into those services, according to Droga..

“Clients pay us to solve stuff, and I don’t want to just solve one quadrant now,” he says.

Managing a business of such scale and scope has required some “unlearning” for Droga himself. “I’m trying to move from being a creative in a business to building a business on creativity,” he says. “I want to orchestrate a business that puts that at the center of everything we do.”

He spoke with Campaign US about his strategy for Accenture Song and where the creative business is heading. 

CAMPAIGN US: You’ve spent the past three years rebranding, reshaping and bringing in new leadership for Accenture Song. Is it where you want it to be or is there still more work to do?

DAVID DROGA: There’s always stuff to be done … but we’re not setting it up to just now hit the road. We’ve had immense growth and success along the way. The design, decisions, acquisitions and hiring have been very deliberate. Changing the name was one thing, changing the operating model was a bigger thing. 

I’ve been very blessed to have best-in-class [talent], all over the world, from lots of different industries and disciplines. Because, you know, you can set up and design a structure for success, but how it’s led …. Having experts at the top of each thing is crucial. 

How have you ensured that creativity thrives in an environment like Accenture?

You’ve got to legitimize it and interlock it with business. The world I came from, the narrative storytelling [space], is a wonderful, massively important component of the world we exist in, but it’s only one component. The demands and challenges of our clients are so vastly different to what they were five years ago, that all things can’t be solved with just narrative and storytelling and brand building. The best way to thrive is to make [creative] results-oriented and burrow into the essence of our clients. 

Creative agencies at the holding companies are posting little to no growth. Is Accenture Song facing the same challenges? If not, why?

They’re all facing the same headwinds. Clients are paying less. This is a bugbear for me: A lot of them have given the creative element away. In their desperation to win media, they act like the creative is just a veneer to give away, when they don’t realize that’s the difference-maker. They devalued creative agencies in the clients’ mind and procurement and such. So it’s no wonder that [creative agencies] have shrunk. CMOs are under so much pressure now. That relationship and loyalty and appreciation of the creative products isn’t there. All creative agencies are facing that.

What role does Droga5 play in Accenture Song’s offering?

It’s one of the most well known creative brands in the world, and its reputation opens a lot of doors. It’s very much the tip of the spear. The funny thing in marketing is … there’s conflict. We needed to have some separation between [the two brands]. It still works hand in glove where it can with Song. It’s not treated as a separate [business] out on its own island. 

There’s no question, in the first few years [post-acquisition], it faced the dilemma of what happened in the market. But even though it shrank and faced a lot of adversity, the work never suffered. And it’s back to growth again, because it’s connected to a broader play now.It needs to be successful, but it’s part of something. 

Can creative agencies stand on their own anymore or do they have to be part of a bigger offering?

It depends on their ambitions. Great creative teams are always going to be relevant. The need for originality, understanding, distinctiveness and taste, and all these other hard to define things — even with the onslaught, excitement, hype and nervousness around gen AI, I still think great creative and originality are always important. 

Creative agencies will always emerge, but I don’t know if they’re ever going to scale to [a certain] level unless they add different dimensions beyond brand building and marketing.

You don’t often talk about the holding companies as your competitors, and Accenture Song hasn’t pushed into media buying. Who would you say are your competitors?

There’s no question that in some facets, we compete against the holding companies. I’m a competitive person, and I’m a marketing person and an advertising person. So I take pride in, and I know, that space. But we compete against the platforms. We compete against the other consultants. 

The traditional media game is not what we need to be in. That’s not what our clients need. I’m not pretending that media isn’t a massive part for certain players. We play massively in digital media. But as far as clipping coupons and cross-selling upselling media, I don’t think that’s the best use of our talents. 

Accenture is investing $30 billion in AI. How is Song tapping into that? 

Song is probably leading the charge for AI within Accenture, primarily because it’s in the hands of consumers already, unlike other emerging technologies that were enterprise to begin with. Song is enjoying and also responsibly trying to manage that investment. 

It’s not just throwing money at it. It’s deploying it in ways that are sensible and sustainable. We’re opening up an immense amount of training, an immense amount of pilots. It’s a large sum, but we’re also an enormous company. I like the idea that it’s a perpetual way to force ourselves to stay relevant. You can’t just learn it, trade it, dock it, file it away and become an expert. 

A lot of people are nervous about what it’s going to do to creative business. It’s going to change the look of the industry and how we do things. At the end of the day, it’s a remarkable tool, and things are going to happen much faster, and it will replace certain things. The necessity of creativity and originality is not going away, but it’ll get rid of a lot of this sort of mediocre middle.

Do you think it’ll contribute to the devaluing of creativity? 

At the beginning it will. A lot of clients think that gen AI will do all their marketing and advertising. But then they’ll realize when everyone has access to the same tools, we’ll be stuck with the same things. How do you differentiate and stand out? That’s when, again, creativity and strategy and taste and all those things that we still bring [matter]. It’ll just mean we have to operate at a faster pace. 

You did an interview recently where you called most advertising work ‘formulaic’ and ‘shit.’ What needs to change about the way the industry is approaching creative work?

I think we can play in a much more interesting place. How do we make personalization creative? What can happen in design and digital products? Commerce is about transactions, but how do we infuse creativity into that? Let’s not just be confined to the canvases that we always were. 

This is not about me turning my back on anything. This is about me opening up the aperture to say there’s so much more you can apply that to. Part of the success I had at Droga5 was that we were always trying to push into new places — entertainment, social good, going viral — that were new at the time. I feel like it’s the same thing.

We’re in the time business. Anything we make asks something of someone’s time. I just want to make sure we create work that’s worthy of people’s time. That’s the itch that every creative person has, even if they’re pretending to have a different title. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This article originally appeared on Campaign US.