Grand designs in adland
By John Tylee, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 14 August 2008 01:00PM
Ever wondered what the inside of your rival's agency looks like? We take a photographic tour of the sleek new office interiors at Fallon, Engine and Karmarama.
Engine's office - more pictures below text
For Peter Scott, Engine's short journey from London's Golden Square - home of its WCRS flagship agency - to Great Portland Street has been as much symbolic as practical.
Bringing 600 people from a dozen operating companies into one 60,000 square-foot home is a manifestation of the communications group beginning to develop a common culture in the wake of the acquisition spree that begat it.
"What happened was a movement rather than a move," Scott, Engine's chairman and joint chief executive, explains. "It's not just been about finding a building, but about bringing in different ways of working and thinking."
A variety of needs influenced the choice of new home. One was a convenient location. Soho was out because there was nothing of sufficient size and the group had no desire to relocate to City, the West End or the outer reaches of Camden Town.
Yet, it had to be a building where Engine's mainly thirtysomething staff and their clients would feel comfortable.
"If Robin Wight (Engine's president) and I had our way we'd probably have furnished it with leather armchairs," Scott smiles. "What we've actually got is a building for the 21st Century."
Scott reckons that gathering all Engine's staff together under one roof has created a company greater than the sum of its parts.
"There's a wonderful feeling about the place," he declares. "Everyone feels they're developing a new culture rather than giving up their existing ones."
But how do posh offices play with frugal clients Scott says:"Clients want to see you're making efficient, rather than self-indulgent, use of your space. They want assurance that we're using our income sensibly and not living in dreamland."
He is sanguine about whether the deal for the new home was wise given what's happened to the property prices since.
"Could we have found something cheaper? Of course. But we're not masters of the property market. We just wanted a nice place to live."
Fallon's office - more pictures below text
London's Oxford Street may divide adland like the Rubicon. But agencies such as Fallon have become less nervous about crossing over from Soho to "Noho".
The irony was that Fallon had been the victim of it own success. A barnstorming 2007 had seen the arrival of Asda, Eurostar, Cadbury's Dairy Milk and Budweiser, bringing a massive 150 per cent billings boost. Staff numbers had exploded.
But that triggered fresh problems. With the agency's Beak Street headquarters bursting at the seams, some staff had been siphoned off into overflow accommodation.
The system worked. But it was less than ideal. And, to make matters worse, there was nothing in Soho that could offer the 20,000 square feet Fallon needed.
For the agency's senior executives, there were some tricky judgments to make. "What we had to decide was whether we were going through a period of transitional growth or something more profound," Laurence Green, the agency's chairman, says.
Having pressed the button, the search team led by Karina Wilsher, the managing director, drew a circle on the map within which the agency intended to remain.
County Hall was given the once-over ("a great space, but not one you'd necessarily want to put an agency in", Green says).
There was also a brief flirtation with Clerkenwell and even an old Post Office sorting office in Euston ("lots of space but beyond the pale") as well as King's Cross ("It's going to be great - but not yet").
In the end, the team signed a ten-year lease on 20,000 square feet of premises on Great Titchfield Street, a previous home to both Wieden & Kennedy and Karmarama. A project management team was brought in to give the place what Green calls "a sense of us".
"We were a very bad client," Green confesses. "We kept cutting the budget and changing the brief."
And the result? "We didn't want to present ourselves as closeted, pompous or self-important," he adds. "What we've managed to achieve is a real sense of openness and modernity."
Karmarama's office - more pictures below text
Time was when you'd have been more likely to find a snowflake in August than a well-known agency in a quiet West London residential street.
Not any more. Earlier this year Karmarama swapped its previous home, just a showreel's throw away from Oxford Street's bustle, for suburban Hammersmith, to become one of the most high-profile examples of agencies' willingness to cut traditional ties.
A period of strong growth - along with the prospect of a significant rent rise on the expiry of its lease - together provided a compelling reason to up sticks.
Nicola Mendelsohn, the agency's chairman, says the agency hadn't initially even thought of leaving Soho, let alone decamping to W14.
Attitudes soon changed, however, when nothing could be found to accommodate an almost 40-strong workforce and that any available space was prohibitively expensive.
Today, Karmarma finds itself in a sleek and airy office built on the site of a former magistrates' court car-park for a toy manufacturer who decided not to move in.
Is the toyman's loss Karmarama's gain? Mendelsohn has no doubt. The building is light and roomy with doors that open on to a patio that's perfect for barbeques.
More importantly, it has allowed the agency to change its working methods. Creatives, planners and account people work alongside each other.
"There's been a big reduction in e-mail traffic," Mendelsohn remarks. "People are actually talking to each other again."
It helps also that the agency and three of its biggest clients - Nintendo, Sky and Coca-Cola - all share a Westerly location.
"The message we want this building to send to our clients is that this is a grown-up agency you can have fun with," Mendelsohn says.
"It's very important that, when you come here, it shouldn't be like visiting a law firm or your accountants."
For Mendelsohn, Grey London's former deputy chairman, Karmarama's new home is the embodiment of one of her former client's most famous slogans.
She says: "We've found a place where people really can work, rest and play."
All pictures by Colin Stout
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk