We live in an age of mobility and online connectivity, yet a company still needs roots and a place to call home.
In the advertising and media industry, which is built on people and ideas, location helps to define what a company stands for.
I have just returned from California, where the headquarters of Facebook and Snapchat offer contrasting examples.
Facebook has built a vast campus in suburban Menlo Park in Silicon Valley, with a new 600-metre-long open-plan wing, designed by Frank Gehry, where Mark Zuckerberg has his personal office in a giant glass cube – visible on all sides to passing staff. The message, not least to nearby Google and Apple, is clear: Facebook is a force to be reckoned with.
By contrast, Snapchat has based itself far from Silicon Valley in Los Angeles to be close to the entertainment industry and occupies a collection of anonymous, scattered buildings on different streets in edgy, urban Venice Beach. The company’s ghost logo, stencilled on the front door of one building, is the only clue that it is Snapchat’s home.
Back in Britain, Sir Martin Sorrell has kept WPP’s head office in a Mayfair mews house because it sends a signal that the world’s biggest ad group may have a swish address but it remains lean at heart.
Moving office into a more modern workspace can be galvanising, but the temptation can also be to save money because property is usually a company’s biggest overhead after its staff.
Sky Media has just relocated from Victoria to its parent company’s Osterley campus in the outer reaches of west London in the name of efficiency. The positive spin is that ad sales now sit at the centre of the pay-TV operation, but even insiders admit it has been a blow to leave the bright lights of central London, close to agency land, and some staff are expected to leave.
Similarly, Omnicom’s decision to move many of its agencies from in and around Marylebone to a single, homogenous site in Bankside, south of the river, has had mixed feedback. From the impersonal security staff at the door to the outsourcing of the group’s finance functions to India, the worry is that the individual character of each agency is being undermined.
Indeed, companies such as Amazon and Google believe it can make sense to operate teams in different locations in the same city to maintain a start-up edge.
Creative people like to cluster together, but beware pooling everyone in a dull location. That way blandness lies.