In Conversation: Ted Royer shares his career highlights and biggest nightmares



( –Ted Royer is no stranger to the industry, topping the ranking by Business Insider as the most creative person in advertising for 2016, Ted has won more than 100 major awards in a career spanning 20-years.

In March next year, Droga5’s Chief Creative Officer is heading back to the Asia, his old stomping ground having worked in Singapore, as the Grand Jury President of ADFEST 2017.

In an interview with ADFEST’s editor Barbara Messer, Droga5’s Chief Creative Officer chats about his upcoming trip to Thailand next year and reflects on the phenomenal growth of the world’s most famous agency which recently was named Agency of the Year by AdWeek.

You’re joining ADFEST for its 20th anniversary celebrations as Grand Jury President next year. Have you attended ADFEST before?

I used to live in Singapore, so I’ve been to ADFEST a few times. I’m really excited about returning – besides the chance to catch up with a lot of old buddies, I love going to other parts of the world and seeing how our industry has evolved in different markets. ADFEST has its finger on the pulse in so many parts of Asia: countries I haven’t been exposed to in awhile. I think some of the work from these places is going to be fascinating to me.

ADFEST celebrates 20 years next year. Your career spans 20 years. What have been the highlights and biggest nightmares?

The business of advertising is nightmarish on a regular basis – you can’t go a week without being punched in the gut. I think you have to take failures and setbacks with grace – this is something I had to learn, I used to stamp my feet and get angry.

In terms of career highlights, I’m really proud of the amount of work I’ve been able to do around the world, practising this craft in different places – I think it’s given me a good radar for a great global versus local idea.

And I’m especially proud of the team at Droga5, and proud of having helped to build that team.

Droga5 has grown into an agency of nearly 700 people in New York. Can you describe the ride?

We’ve achieved between 30% and 40% revenue growth every year, so Droga5 feels like a different agency every year. But the same spirit is still there – we hug each other a lot, we drink together, hopefully a few people made out at our party last night, although nobody tells me anything anymore. It’s getting harder to know everyone in the office with 700 people, but that spirit lives on, and it trickles down from the top.

One of the agency’s principles is “humanity obsessed”. What does this mean to you?

We’re proud of being in advertising, but we don’t want to make crap that people avoid. Almost every day a new technology is built to avoid advertising. We don’t want to be part of the wall of sound out of respect for people’s time.

Also no matter what we’re doing business-wise, we will use a proportion of our brains and hearts to do something we truly believe in, beyond helping clients. Some examples are the Equal Payback Project, Tap Project for UNICEF, Not There for the Clinton Foundation and The Great Schlep.

Droga5 was named Agency of the Year 2016 by Creativity and AdAge, which wrote of Droga5: “It’s this obsessive, relentless giving-a-damn that has led the agency to where it is today”. Is it true that you care too much?

I don’t know if we can care too much as an industry, but it’s something we do say at Droga5 – that caring is often out of scope. A lot of companies can deliver work that meets the brief. We don’t think that’s enough. One of the best barometers for our ideas is when we find ourselves asking: “Can we even do that??”

Because that’s the work that pushes people and shocks people. Sadly a lot of our industry might have phoned it in when it comes to moving out of their comfort zones. We don’t want to be that agency. We want to be making work that makes us nervous.

So how do you sleep at night?

Ambien, ha! Actually, you’re not going to be very good if you’re burning yourself out. We want people to take their vacations at Droga5. You don’t have to stay at the office all night to be a good creative. There’s a way to have ambition and work hard without burning yourself out, and it’s important to turn your brain off for a while.

When was your last vacation?

We rented a house with some other families over summer. Actually, I didn’t turn my phone off the whole time so I’ve made an agreement with my wife that on our next vacation, I can only turn my phone on at 11am and 3pm.
There are agencies that ask people to keep their phone on all night though and I say, fuck that, you have to be respectful of people’s time. We’re not the kind of industry that needs to be run on high military alert.

How do you make time for these kinds of projects?

We treat it like a real business or brief, we don’t say: ‘Do this in your spare time’. If you treat it like a sideshow, it will be a sideshow.

Do you think your time living and in Singapore, Argentina and Sydney shaped you creatively?

I encourage every creative to do a stint abroad because it will stretch your mind in incredible ways. Even if you have a terrible day at work, the sounds and smells, even the sunlight, will be different when you leave the office, and can’t help but ignite your creativity in different ways.

And when you’re living in another country, you have to be really open to letting things shape you, and letting go of preconceived notions you might have about how things should be done. I found that when I did this, it was much more fun.

You’ve won basically every award and accolade this industry has to offer. Is there anything you’re yet to accomplish?

I love the idea of creating environments where younger, more creative and more energetic people than me can really flourish. And I’d really love to write and teach more in future.

I do give seminars occasionally, but I’d love to make teaching a bigger part of my life. If I can take some of the crap I’ve been through and let people know it’s normal to go through this crap- that would be a good achievement.

ADFEST 2017 celebrates ‘20 Years of Diversity’ from Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 25th March in Pattaya, Thailand. To enter your work or attend the event head over here.


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