Havas Village will show that bringing people together unleashes creativity
A view from Chris Hirst

Havas Village will show that bringing people together unleashes creativity

Far from being anachronistic, a big building full of people can fuel a creative culture.

Havas this week kicked off its move to unify its 24 UK agencies into one building, Three Pancras Square in London’s King’s Cross area. Havas Village took three years to build and will house 1700 people over 10 floors. Neighbours and neighbours-to-be include Google, Camden Council, Vivendi and Central St Martins. Chris Hirst, the chief executive of Havas UK and Europe, makes the case for a move of this scale.

In the age of the virtual workplace it may seem out of step to celebrate the arrival of an almost 2,000-strong mega-agency occupying a corner plot of a King’s Cross development.

But I believe that "Big Buildings Full Of People", far from being anachronistic, will thrive precisely because they can do things the new gig economy models can’t.

As an industry we should welcome new models but we shouldn’t assume they sound the death knell for traditional agencies.

Some of the architecture at Havas Village bears more than a passing resemblance to "The Penrose Stairs"

I believe there is a value that can only be created when people come together; when they share the same workspace, ride in the same lifts and drink the same macchiato.

This week the first of over a dozen Havas agencies moves into a 160,000 square foot building so I guess I have a big incentive to say that. But I also believe it’s true. Technology is brilliant for connecting a known demand to an available resource, but even the best online collaboration tools are no match for the glorious accident of human interaction.

So I remain resolutely in favour of agencies with walls. It’s just a question of what happens within them, because the real challenge for adland is not technology; it’s culture.

There is no point gathering 1700 people into one place if 1699 of them are employed to fan the ego of one creative overlord. That’s the agency model we’ve had for ever. It’s hideously inefficient, criminally wasteful and it stands no chance of surviving the disruptions coursing through our industry.

Thanks to a legacy of professional protectionism and the tyranny of the division of labour, creativity has become a function practised by a chosen few. We see this most acutely in the traditional creative industries but it is present in other parts of the economy too. It’s time has passed.

Technology has removed the barriers to entry. Anyone who considers themselves creative now has a platform. Good grief, some of these people didn’t even go to Art College. In contrast, agencies have traditionally only allowed the cardinals in the creative conclave to have ideas, while endless amounts of smart thinking goes up in smoke simply because of the job description of the originator. 

There is no point gathering 1700 people into one place if 1699 of them are employed to fan the ego of one creative overlord

I am not advocating anarchy. There have to boundaries, there has to be accountability. But if big agencies are to thrive they have to leverage what differentiates them from the rest – the ability to surprise, stimulate and challenge each other and generate value together.

Our King’s Cross adventure follows in the footsteps of other Havas Village concepts in Paris, New York and elsewhere. We’re bringing creative, media, digital, PR, design, employee engagement and healthcare disciplines into one space.

To begin with it’ll probably feel like day one at the United Nations or maybe more like the bar in Star Wars, but if we can embed the right culture and release the creative energy of all our people, there’ll be no stopping us.