As the old saying goes, it's all about location. But location is no longer all about Soho, at least not as far as ad agencies are concerned.
Nowadays, you're just as likely to stumble across agency staffers in Knightsbridge, Goodge Street, West Kensington and as far east as Shoreditch and Clerkenwell.
So what's behind this widespread abandonment of adland's traditional heartland? And how can an echoing warehouse in East London compare to a prime site next to all the bars and restaurants of Wardour Street?
Rent is the most obvious answer - average rents in Shoreditch, at around £20 per square foot, are a damn sight cheaper than the £45 per square foot demanded by Soho landlords. The size of Soho's buildings also makes the area unviable for the larger agencies, especially if they want open-plan office space - so Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is on Marylebone Road, Grey's building is on Great Portland Street and Ogilvy & Mather is the only agency to have braved the move to Canary Wharf. Other agencies have chosen to take advantage of bigger floor sizes and slightly cheaper rents just north of Soho's core, while still being within striking distance of the centre.
But rent is not the only factor, Neil Christie, Wieden & Kennedy's managing director, says. W&K moved from Great Titchfield Street to Shoreditch in May.
Christie admits it's a bonus that the agency is only paying about half what it did in Soho. But, he says: "We had a list of criteria when we were looking, things like having our name on the front door, our own building, lots of space and an open-plan layout.When we decided to move, we looked in Soho, but all you can get there is a floor in a block and not much else."
The building W&K eventually chose is an old textile factory and was little more than a shell when they moved in. "We started from scratch, which was a bit of a nightmare, but now we have somewhere that feels like our own, rather than belonging to someone who churns out media-style office blocks for a living," Christie says.
The attraction of Shoreditch today bears some similarity to the original attraction of Soho. It might be dirty and a bit tawdry in places, but it's where most of the creative community outside advertising has its base.
W&K's new local pub is the Golden Hart, the favourite haunt of the Britart crowd - the pub's landlady, Sandra, was once nominated by Tracey Emin as one of the ten most influential people in the British art scene. It was in the Golden Hart that a group of W&K staff were accosted by Emin, who accused them of invading the area and thinking they were "it". That's the kind of atmosphere you just don't get in a typical Oxford Street boozer.
The desire for a change of scenery was also behind HHCL United's decision to move out of Kent House (also in Great Titchfield Street), where the agency has been for 16 years. Its new home is the old Old Holborn tobacco factory on the corner of Clerkenwell Road and Hatton Garden.
Sid McGrath, the HHCL managing director, says: "We looked around the West End and North Soho but the buildings were all a bit small and uninspiring. We also wanted our location to be about the company you keep and Soho is pretty boring now: it's all juice bars, Carluccio's and Abbott Mead wannabes."
Clerkenwell is just as full of small creative companies as Shoreditch, he says - and it's probably a bit less of a shock to the system for staff than locations further east. It is also cheaper than Soho, at an average rent of around £30 a square foot, and has larger and more interesting buildings.
"I'm thinking about starting a few new businesses doing different things within the agency but we just didn't have the space to do anything like that where we were," he says. "You get so much more space for your money outside Soho - we've got five floors in the new building, plus a lot more history and character."
McGrath was so inspired by one of the building's unusual features, a huge statue of a griffin embedded in the outside wall, that he is using it as part of the agency's new image. "Griffins stand for majesty and intelligence and as soon as I saw it, I said 'that's the new look for the agency'," he says.
He does admit that moving outside the West End was a bit of a wrench.
"The girls were distraught about moving away from Topshop and, to be honest, I can't tell you the number of times that being around the corner from Selfridges has saved my marriage," he says. "When someone first suggested Clerkenwell, I said: 'Bugger that, I've spent half my life trying to get out of the East End. There's no way I'm going back.' All credit to Mother for going out East a while ago, they're the ones who were really brave about it."
This kind of reaction was why the agency was so careful to communicate the move properly to its staff. Christopher Boardman, the managing director of the chartered surveyor James Boardman & Partners (which handled W&K's move to Hanbury Street), says that a company moving from Soho to Shoreditch can expect on average to lose about 20 per cent of its staff. Christie says W&K has lost "almost none", and McGrath is hoping HHCL's investment in educating its staff about their move will pay off in similar fashion.
"We are doing a lot of work warming people up to the idea," he says.
"Before we did anything to the building, we consulted the whole agency on what they wanted to keep from the old building and what they wanted to lose and now we give them weekly updates on how the building is changing," he adds. "People don't like change, as a rule, but you can't let them get too relaxed; creativity flourishes in an edgy environment."
The downsides of Shoreditch are obvious - it can be grimy, insalubrious and even dangerous. Christie says safety was a concern before W&K decided to move but the fact that the building is on a main road and that the route to the Tube is well-lit helped allay their fears. The shops, he insists, are more interesting than Oxford Street and in the summer it's like a "street festival", with bands playing in the car-park across the road every Friday afternoon.
But that kind of environment doesn't work for agencies whose image is closer to corporate than cutting-edge. Plenty of agencies wouldn't be seen dead in an East London warehouse.
JWT has never been a Soho agency - it moved from the classy but stuffy environs of Berkeley Square to Knightsbridge Green in 2002. Lowe set up on the Brompton Road before moving to Bowater house. It has remained in the vicinity, having moved to Leo Burnett's building on Sloane Avenue at the beginning of the year. Burnett has moved even further west, to Kensington Village, where rents are at Shoreditch levels (around £22 per square foot), but where the payoff is a distinct lack of local facilities.
According to Boardman, Knightsbridge rents are about the same as in Soho, at £45-plus per square foot. There are plenty of bars, restaurants and shops around and the area is smarter than Soho, if slightly harder to get to by Tube.
"Sloane Square is a prime area. Most of the buildings around there are residential - otherwise, more companies would move out there," he says.
"A big asset of West London is how easy it is to get out of town by car."
And the ability to get out of town has become more important now that most clients have left London far behind. While we have yet to see agencies following their clients to the suburbs of Slough, Soho is increasingly looking like a luxury location that's difficult to justify.
LONDON'S CENTRES OF CREATIVITY
Home of M&C Saatchi, WCRS, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Fallon, as well as a host of smaller creative businesses, advertising's traditional heartland has seen an exodus over recent years (and an influx of tourists and chain stores). Start-ups are choosing locations slightly north of the centre and other agencies are moving east.
What's good: Easy to get to work and plenty to keep you entertained after work
What's bad: Astronomical rents, small floors, landlords who refuse to mend the lift
Shopping: Topshop, Selfridges, almost any chain store you can think of
Restaurants: Hakkasan, The Ivy, J Sheekey
Drinks: Soho House, The Groucho Club, the French House
Home to a cluster of agencies - two relatively recent start-ups in Clemmow Hornby Inge and Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, as well as Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA. Charlotte Street and the surrounding area is lively enough, and has the added bonus of being slightly cheaper than central Soho while offering bigger buildings and most of the same benefits.
What's good: All the advantages of Soho but cheaper and better buildings
What's bad: The Northern Line
Shopping: Walk down to Oxford Street
Restaurants: Passione, BamBou, Pescatori
Drinks: The Sanderson and a host of good pubs
Cheap rents and the ability to design your own building are what attracted Mother and Wieden & Kennedy out east. The Truman Brewery is developing an 11-acre site and already plays landlord to bars, restaurants and small creative companies. The downsides are obvious: graffiti, grime and a pain to get to if you live in South or West London.
What's good: Cheap rents, great buildings
What's bad: Transport links, mad artists, grimy streets
Shopping: Second-hand shoe shops and lots of great markets
Restaurants: St John Bread & Wine, Fifteen, Smiths
Drinks: The Golden Hart, Great Eastern Dining Rooms, Vibe Bar
If hanging out with the A-list is right up your street, then Knightsbridge is the place for you (if you can afford it), and JWT and Lowe benefit from being branded exclusive, if traditional, by association. Knightsbridge is harder to get to than central London but it is a lot easier to get out of by car - an asset for client service.
What's good: Close to the roads out of London, everything you need on your doorstep
What's bad: Expensive rents, few commercial buildings
Shopping: Harrods and Harvey Nicks plus all the best designer shops
Restaurants: Zuma, 5th Floor, Bibendum, Mosimann's, Petrus
Drinks: The bar at the Berkeley, the bar at the Mandarin Oriental.