PERSPECTIVE: If we are where we work then it’s time for a coat of paint

I don’t normally count myself a fan of the writings of management gurus such as Tom Peters or Peter Drucker. I like to think this is because when you strip away the hype and the jargon their only real product is commonsense, but you readers out there may prefer to put it down to simple jealousy of their income potential versus that of the humble hack.

I don’t normally count myself a fan of the writings of management

gurus such as Tom Peters or Peter Drucker. I like to think this is

because when you strip away the hype and the jargon their only real

product is commonsense, but you readers out there may prefer to put it

down to simple jealousy of their income potential versus that of the

humble hack.



The latest issue of Campaign’s sister title, Management Today, has an

interesting piece by Charles Handy, whose writings I much prefer and who

describes himself as a ’management writer and social philosopher’. In

this article Handy talks about the importance of offices which are

decorated with visual reminders of what that particular enterprise does.

’Buildings and offices wear their hearts on their sleeves,’ he writes.

’You can tell what life is like within them just by taking a look at

them.’ Without such visual stimuli, Handy wonders, does work merely

become the means to an end?



The fact that I happened to read this piece the same day last week that

Campaign’s survey on agency lifestyles came out was pure

coincidence.



But it gave me pause for thought: why is it exactly that most media

buyers tend to have such boring offices?



The obvious answer is that for many, having a boring and culturally

barren office was half the point, preferably with a suitably unglamorous

address.



That was because boring also equals cheap (or, if you prefer, lean, mean

and careful with money) and the whole idea was for media specialists to

show clients that they certainly weren’t like their profligate agency

counterparts. Zenith, TMD, Initiative, MediaCom, CIA (apart from the

glitzy reception) - I rest my case.



That is not to say it wasn’t appropriate for the time or that it didn’t

work. But is it the right approach for now? There are two reasons to

think not. The first is that media has moved on from being all about

price, so media agencies need to occupy a space that is about more than

just price (cf Michaelides & Bednash). The second is that the more media

buyers bang on about creativity (and boy, they all do that these days),

the more they need to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to it. As

one agency head observed last week: ’If people come into an environment

where they feel comfortable, then of course they will be more creative

and productive.’



The second reason is differentiation. Everybody buys media cheaply these

days. So why not have a building that says something else about your

organisation - things like ’fun’, ’stimulating’, ’creative’ even?



Things may be about to change. We know that MindShare is looking for

West End offices and TMD is leaving dreary New London House. But the

best address is no good if you don’t make that statement. Don’t just

take my word for it. Handy’s conclusion is that ’boring places breed

boring thoughts and boring people’. How right he is. To paraphrase

another (sort of) management guru, Karl Marx: ’We are where we work.’



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