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
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
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
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
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.’